By: Rolf Li

Many people, like me, have gone or are going to the Rockies and their National Parks. The view is stunning and the landscape is majestic, but what most of us don’t know is the economy and the life of the people who permanently live in those cities and towns that we stay in overnight and how they depend on the waters and the land to survive in this tough world.

Let me start with Banff, AB. This is a small tourist town that was build specifically to accommodate travellers and tourists. The whole town has about 5-10 thousand permanent residents that go about their daily lives. But what is special about this town that makes it so popular? Well, for starters, you have one of the best views in the entire mountain range in Canada and the wildlife is amazing. Take a break and you could be going to one of the town’s many hot springs and enjoying the underground water. Banff draws in about 2-4 million visitors every year and these attractions are designed to put a hole in your pocket. Visit the gondola of the town to get the better view will cost you $40 and a trip to the springs could cost $50+. Hotels in Banff are also a premium and they can cost about $300 a night and can go up to $600. It is much cheaper to live in neighbouring towns such as Canmore. You can take a walk downtown to a variety of stores, but most importantly, Gem Stores. These stores sell high end jewellery for a high end price. The profit margins of the hotels and store can range up to 70% of the gross amount they make. You may think that the residents are rich, but they are not. The economy of the town and the surrounding area is solely based on tourism, and if the people count is low, then they make no money. The area has little resources to draw on and education is a nightmare. Based purely on revenue, the town is booming and the resident to local GDP value is sky-rocketing. But the area has been in a steady decrease of tourists and that means less money in the bank. There is no commercial value of the goods that the town can produce and it is very dangerous. If people stop going to the town, the people have to move out, and when the people move out, towns die out. Many of the people in the town are beyond working age and there are no people to fill in jobs. It is very obvious that the stores are under-staffed and they need help. This is why tourist towns just won’t work in the future. Young people are moving out and finding jobs in the city, and they are bringing less money into the area and that is terrible for the economy. I would value the yearly GDP of Banff, AB to be around $750 million dollars a year after taxes and loss of jobs. Over all, the economy is moving along at an okay pace but give 15 years and the place will be in trouble.

Jasper National Park houses the famous Athabasca Glacier and the other glaciers of the Columbia Ice-field. The glaciers draw in around 4 million people a year and that could mean more than $65 million dollars in revenue per year at literally no cost. Strategically on the Trans-Canada Highway, the glacier entrance is right on the way to Jasper, AB and anyone can view the magnificent ice-land. This is one of the reasons that tourism is a lucrative industry. People are going to pay $35 to ride the huge glacier trucks and to view the glacier. With 4 million people a year, the owner and his/her investors could be making $120 million in gross and then after paying the staff, taxes, and loans for the trucks, they could be making (as I said) $65 million dollars! It is this that pumps money into the system and that is what gets the local economies rolling. Unfortunately, the glacier is shrinking fast and in a couple of years, it could be very costly to bring people closer to the glacier and one of the most majestic natural things in the world could be lost. But there is a bright side. In the next 20 years, the amount of visitors to visit the area could rise 2-fold as people try to see the last of the ice-age. This is one of the things that pumps money over time and the government is surely enjoying the added cash from foreign countries. When foreigners visit our country, we don’t just spend our money in our country, they are spending theirs. They had to buy Canadian currency and that allows our dollar to rise in value. Next comes the city or “township” of Jasper. This is quite similar to Banff as it houses some of the most expensive hotels in the Rockies. Stay here for about $400 a night and enjoy the run-down buildings and the abandoned houses. Here, the money is clearly not going into the people and the town, but it is going to the government and investors. Like Banff, it has many expensive shops and the attractions are very inflated. The population of this town is lacking and only has about 5,000 permanent residents. There, like Banff, has no youth and the jobs are horrible. Hopefully the economy can go along without the help of the government in the next 5 years. But unlike Banff, the view is not that good and that will damage the economy, maybe even by 10% in the next 5 years every year. Soon, the infrastructure costs and the resource costs will run these small towns into the ground and people will move away to cheaper towns, but thankfully not for a while.

These places are a must see for the Rockies and if you are in the area, I highly suggest you go and visit Banff and Jasper as they are truly amazing places to see.

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