A conversation with James Jackson, President and CEO, Tourism Jasper
Tourism Jasper’s James Jackson talks to Canadian Travel Press this week about why Jasper, Alberta is uniquely positioned as a safe, calm, and spacious destination that’s perfect for attracting visitors during this time.
Jasper has been open for a few weeks now, I am just wondering how things are going?
Considering it was a slower start to the season given COVID-19, things in Jasper are picking up. We are seeing increased visitation, especially on weekends. We would compare this kind of attendance to what we would typically experience during our regular winter seasons, with visitors being primarily from Alberta.
Can you talk a bit about the Venture Again campaign – what is it all about?
Venture Again is an expansion of Tourism Jasper’s current slogan, Venture Beyond. Venture Again is a campaign based on ‘responsible inspiration,’ because safety and comfort are essential. Right now, Albertans are craving clarity and consistency – they need to know what is open and available for them to explore, while ensuring their travel is a safe and calm experience. This summer, Albertans are looking to return to the places that are meaningful to them – which Jasper is for so many. They just want to have an adventure again – and that is what Venture Again encourages.
Have Albertans responded to Tourism Jasper’s Venture Again campaign? What do the numbers look like so far?
Our numbers would suggest that Albertans have been very responsive to Venture Again. We are seeing weekend occupancy of around 70% to 80%, with a few properties yet to open. This is an incredible accomplishment for Jasper, given our previous months’ occupancy rates have been at an average of two per cent.
You mention that safety protocols have been enhanced by Parks Canada and by local businesses. Can you talk about what these new protocols involve and how they are keeping visitors and workers safe?
Businesses and organizations throughout Jasper have increased their hygiene and safety protocols to meet, or exceed, Alberta Health Services guidelines. Examples of these practices include temperature checks upon entry, sanitization of surfaces every fifteen minutes, reductions in capacity, and increases in staff screening. I personally believe Jasper is leading the way in ensuring the health and safety of both our residents and visitors.
How hard did COVID-19 hit Jasper’s tourism industry? Can you talk about it a little, put it in perspective?
Like many leisure destinations, devastating is not strong enough of a word. Last year the visitor economy in Jasper was valued at about $500 million, welcoming approxi-mately 2.5 million visitors. During the summer months, Jasper has an occupancy rate of 90-95 per cent. Over the last few months our town has seen an occupancy rate of under two per cent, with three out of four Jasper residents unemployed. We are starting to see recovery, but we are not through this yet by any means.
And realistically, even with this new campaign in place, what are your hopes for the coming summer season?
We are expecting 40% to 50% average occupancy for the remainder of the year. Although we are seeing a slight uptick in visitation right now, unfortunately until international travel is permitted the regional market is just not large enough to sustain visitation anywhere near what the destination is used to.
Looking ahead, what do you see as some of the challenges for Jasper tourism?
Historically we have really relied on the international tour business, and although the visitor has evolved into more of an independent traveller as of late, we really cherish our tour operator partners. With borders closed, businesses struggling, and traveller sentiment convoluted, those relationships will be more important than ever.
Do you see any opportunities going forward? What are they?
I think Jasper is uniquely positioned as a safe, calm, and spacious destination, perfect for attracting visitors during this time. Our brand is built on the premise of wide-open space and fresh air, and we will be leveraging that. At the same time, with effectively all travel this year being domestic, it is a great opportunity to remind Canadians that Jasper National Park is theirs – it is owned by all Canadians. So, what better way to explore your country than to visit a national park.
Last question. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about what is to come? Why?
I am realistically optimistic. There is no denying that COVID-19 has changed everything, so it is important to ground ourselves in that reality. Having said that, I think that travel is embedded in our DNA; it is in our nature to explore. So, although it will be different, and although it will perhaps be more frustrating at times, people will always travel.