Editorial – ‘Staycations’ work just fine

Jeff Burgar

“Oooh, look! Another mountain! Yawn!

That pretty well sums many ideas of touring the Rocky Mountains, both Alberta’s and British Columbia’s supposed international claim to fame. As in, “Seen one rock, you seen ‘em all.”

So, is there huge interest in spending these coming summer holidays in Banff or Jasper? Sure. How about the Grand Tetons in Wyoming? Maybe South Dakota and the Black Hills, where Mount Rushmore features American presidents carved from granite? Chief Crazy Horse, also in the Black Hills, is still under construction.

Yes, there is interest. But is there enough for any one person or family to keep going back, year after year after year? Think about how many people will be heading off to Europe to see the Alps. Or the Pyrenees. Or even Scotland’s Highlands? Probably not a lot, unless it’s part of a bigger adventure.

Now, consider boating in the Shuswap. Sledding or skiing. Hiking trails. Even just hanging around the lodge drinking establishments, pretending to be exhausted after a day on the slopes. The bottom line is, mostly, it isn’t in the seeing. It’s really all about the doing.

Yet, year in and year out, Alberta and B.C. tourist promotions focus, relentlessly, on talking about the big rocks. The Alberta government spends taxpayer money promoting tourism across Alberta. Seriously, money spent promoting the Rockies is mostly wasted money. Banff and Jasper, as much as they are promoted as destinations, are in fact mostly places to pass through as one ventures off to British Columbia parts and places.

Consider that Sylvan Lake in Alberta used to be a town of about 3,000 people. In summer, that population would grow to 15,000. When the season was over, three-quarters of the businesses in town closed until next year.

Today, Sylvan Lake has a permanent population of about 15,000 people. In summer, probably way more than 30,000.

Banff has a population of around 5,000 which does not change much year in and year out. If you are in the tourist business, which do you think, Banff or Sylvan, you should be promoting?

Rockies are nice. A bit of boating in summer, a bit of sledding or skiing in winter is fine. But even better is spending holiday time in the good ol’ local neighbourhood. If that means Winagami, Snipe or Sturgeon Lake, Bear Lake or Saskatoon Island, fine. And of course, the Jewel of the North, Lesser Slave Lake.

Five-thousand permanent people in Faust or Joussard is a dream: 15,000 or more? Unimaginable! But every year, there is more growth. Some years, 50 permanent housing units or more up and down Lesser Slave are added. Even more stalls for camping units are created. And this, in the face of advertising and promotion in central Alberta that keeps telling us, the Rockies are the way to go.

Can you imagine if some of that energy and money went into promoting all of northern Alberta, from Cold Lake to Moose Lake to Fawcett Lake to Lesser Slave?

There is, quite possibly, no limit to what might happen. This is truly the place to be.


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