COVID-19 has put the tourism season on hold for Sylvan Lake, but businesses in Central Alberta’s favourite lakefront town are used to weathering the ups and downs of summer.
Maria Atienza, manager of Comfort Inn & Suites, said the weather always impacts tourism.
“Last year, it was a rainy summer, and I noticed occupancy was definitely down compared to the prior year, when the weather was a bit nicer,” Atienza said.
She said the coronavirus forced the hotel to shut down for three weeks in April. Since reopening in May, there have been fewer guests, plus the majority of summer weddings have either been rebooked for next year, or cancelled.
“We’re usually full on the May long weekend. It wasn’t even close to that.”
She said reunions are also a big part of the hotel’s business, and cancelled sports events mean teams don’t need hotel rooms.
“So far, it’s been slower for sure. Fingers crossed for us,” Atienza said.
Gary Acheson, manager at Sylvan Lake RV Park, said most of his customers are workers needing a place to stay and the park is operating at 50 per cent.
“We’re trying to follow all the rules. We are screening for any coughs. Everyone seems to be respecting the distancing,” Acheson said.
Non-essential travel is still not recommended by Alberta Health. But the RV park manager said some people are not listening.
“(Sunday), on 50th Avenue, it was quite packed with cars, because the parking lots were closed at the beach. Everyone was walking down with their coolers, even though the mayor says stay away.”
Acheson said the RV park will operate at 75 per cent in July and August, and hopefully, the forecast for a dry summer is accurate.
“We have to keep the businesses going, the restaurants here in town. The only time they make their money is in the summer. With the weather last year, we didn’t have summer,” Acheson said.
Amanda Mercer, economic development officer with the Town of Sylvan Lake, said local businesses were recently surveyed to assess how long they can manage under current restrictions, and determine the kind of resources and support they need.
“We’ve heard some good stories, and we heard some difficult stories, for sure, but people are doing the best they can to manage and navigate through this weird time we’re in,” Mercer said.
The impact of the current travel restrictions varies, she said.
“As a town, we’re limited to what we can promote in terms of getting more visitors to our businesses. However, as things change daily, that too could change as well.”
She said the Sylvan Lake business community has become resilient and creative in response to unpredictable summer weather.
“We’ve had years where we’ve had over a million tourists, and we’ve had years where we’ve had 500,000 or 700,000. They’ve been through slow times before.
“This is unlike anything they’ve seen, but there’s always opportunity in every economy, and I see them succeeding through this period of time,” Mercer said.