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St. Albert hotels still on 'rollercoaster ride' post-pandemic

Last week the province announced a new immigration stream to address worker shortages in the hospitality and tourism sector

The province announced last week that it will create a new immigration stream to attract workers to Alberta’s growing tourism and hospitality sector.

While the government in a press release claimed that the sector has fully recovered from COVID-19 shockwaves, St. Albert hotels are still experiencing a bumpy ride, said local hotel operators.

Deb Johnson, assistant manager of the St. Albert Inn & Suites, said that the hotel hasn’t experienced worker shortages, but she would need more information about the new immigration program before she could comment on whether it would benefit the hotel.

However, the last few years have been “a rollercoaster” from her perspective.

“We have busy times; we have very, very slow times; we have times when we don't really have enough hours for the people that we employ full time or part time, and then there are other times where we're begging for workers,” she said. “It’s been very up and down the last four or five years.”

Shortly before the pandemic, the hotel had its “feet underneath it,” but disruptions that she says began about six months to a year prior to the pandemic linger.

“We knew what to expect day to day, month to month, week to week,” she said. “But definitely since [the pandemic], it’s been very up and down.”

And although people are returning to the hotel for weddings, anniversaries and “social and business purposes,” the stream of clientele at the Inn & Suites “hasn’t been what it was [before].”

Business returned to normal levels at the Best Western Plus The Inn at St. Albert in 2023, according to Andrea Gutierrez, the hotel’s assistant general manager.

“We were doing really good,” Gutierrez said.  “We were always busy, always selling out on weekends, and we had lots of walk-in reservations, just people visiting town whenever there's an event. But this first quarter, I can confidently say that it's been quite slow, slower than we were last year first quarter. I'm not sure if it's just us. But based on the reports that we receive, and just looking around town … it just seems like it's a little bit quieter.”

While the Best Western is currently fully staffed, Gutierrez said she is excited about the new immigration stream.

“It’s really good for the industry, because it was one of the most impacted industries when that pandemic happened,” she said. “If we lose some of our staff [in the future], this is really something that I want to look into.”

The tourism and hospitality stream of the Alberta Advantage Immigration Program will invite foreign workers with at least six months of industry experience to stay in the province permanently. They must be offered full-time, non-seasonal work.

The province also announced a “long-term provincial tourism strategy” last week. The aim is to have Alberta’s visitor economy reach $25 billion in yearly visitor expenditures by 2035.

The province saw $10.7 billion in tourism spending in 2022.

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