The Canadian Press
With travel restrictions in place to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many Albertans are staying closer to home this year.
As the weather is warming up, the tourists are showing up.
Services coordinator for the Drumheller and District Chamber of Commerce, Marley Henneigh said, “The majority of visitors seem to be from Alberta, but we are getting visitors from B.C. and Saskatchewan as well.”
There are some differences between this year and previous years for local area attractions.
Admissions at the World’s Largest Dinosaur in June were down 56 per cent over the previous year, though Henneigh says these numbers are “not too surprising” due to restrictions limiting the number of guests and the loss of international visitors.
Their numbers were also down 50 percent for the month of July, though Henneigh noted “that was what we expected.”
The Visitor Information Centre is also noticing differences, particularly in the number of questions being asked about local attractions and amenities.
“This makes sense given the changes businesses have undergone to cope with COVID-19 challenges,” Henneigh said, adding it shows how important it is for local businesses to maintain a current online presence.
Another local attraction noticing dramatic differences in guest numbers is the Royal Tyrrell Museum.
Under normal operations the museum averages between 4,000 to 6,000 visitors per day with numbers reaching upwards of 6,000 to 7,000 visitors per day over the August long weekend.
Executive Director Lisa Making told the Mail with current restrictions to maintain social distancing and limit guest numbers, “We are at about 28 per cent of normal, averaging approximately 1,000 visitors per day.”
Tickets for the August long weekend sold out approximately a week in advance, according to Making.
She added visitors are enjoying the timed tickets as it allows them to spend more time exploring and learning in the galleries, and Making says everyone has been respectful of the new regulations.
“The safety of our staff and visitors is our number one priority,” she said, adding she is proud of the museum’s staff in how they have handled changes in operation since the museum reopened Friday, May 22.
While admission at museums and tourist attractions are down, campgrounds and RV parks are not seeing much of a slowdown.
River Grove Campground and Cabins noted they have seen a decline in traffic during the week, though this is when they would normally see reservations from international guests. Dinosaur RV Park noted they are seeing similar trends, adding some international campers have rebooked their visits for 2021.
Both campgrounds said there is a noticeable increase in Alberta plates at their locations, and some from B.C. and Saskatchewan.
Other nearby campgrounds in Starland County and the Village of Carbon are also seeing differences in the number of campers. Administrative assistant for Starland County, Laura Cawiezel said although the three campgrounds managed by Starland County are first come first served, caretakers have noticed they are “a little busier than normal years.”
Carbon’s two campgrounds saw initial declines in reservations while regulations to camper capacity and facility availability were under constant review and change. Now, however, things at the campgrounds are “fairly steady” according to CAO Vanessa Van der Meer, though she notes they are not as busy during the week. Van der Meer notes one of the biggest impacts to camping numbers is due to the closure of the Carbon Swimming Pool for the 2020 season.
For a town whose economy is heavily reliant on tourism, seeing the streets busy with tourists can be a sign of relief. While travel bans have impacted international tourism, and restrictions to accommodate social distancing may mean lower attendance numbers, it has not dampened the tourism industry; the tourists have simply changed to include more Albertans exploring their own province.
By Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/The Drumheller Mail