Cool summer chills tourism industry

A cool, rainy summer has soaked the revenues of seasonal businesses around Central Alberta.

Only a few children enjoyed the Sylvan Lake Provincial Park beach Monday thanks to - what else? - cool weather and cold water.

Only a few children enjoyed the Sylvan Lake Provincial Park beach Monday thanks to - what else? - cool weather and cold water.

A cool, rainy summer has soaked the revenues of seasonal businesses around Central Alberta.

Campgrounds, lake-side restaurants, hotels, and golf courses saw a sharp drop in customers during the wettest summer in a decade.

“We just didn’t have enough hot days,” said Greg Little, owner of the Little Ice Cream and Soda Shoppe in Red Deer, who predicts at least a 30 per cent revenue decline from his five-year average. “There was no stretch of anything — the biggest stretch we had was two nice days,” Little added.

Environment Canada statistics show Red Deer was hit with 345 mm of rain in the June to August period, compared to the average of 241 mm for the same three months. “The summer hasn’t been good for anybody who needs a bit of good weather to put them over,” added Little.

It certainly wasn’t good for many area golf courses.

Todd Fiske, director of golf for Red Deer’s River Bend Golf Course, anticipates a 10 per cent revenue drop, saying “We got beaten up by the weather. There was no heat.”

Fiske also believes the weaker economy played a role. “People out there are not playing as regularly . . . while the economy is starting to pick up, it certainly is by no means what it used to be.”

Even if September is consistently nicer, with the shorter days and frost warnings, Fiske doubts it would make up for the lost summer revenues. “There’s really not much we can do, except watch our expenses.”

Some Sylvan Lake businesses were particularly hard hit. Sheree Davies, manager of the Bayview Cafe, estimates her customers were down by up to 80 per cent some days.

While meteorologists were predicting a hotter and drier than average summer, “this has been our worst summer in four years,” said Davies, who had to lay off some student staffers in mid-July. In a more usual year, the restaurant is busy right until students quit to go back to school after Labour Day.

Sylvan Lake has been undergoing some road repairs on Lakeshore Drive, and Mark Reierson, manager of Pete’s At the Beach restaurant, thinks the construction might have had some effect, but not as much as the weather and economy.

“The crowds weren’t out on the beach,” said Reierson, who estimates his sales were down about 30 per cent.

But Reierson is reflective about it, saying the summer of 2010 wasn’t the worst he’s seen. “It wasn’t as bad as 1992.”

Many hotels also felt the absence of tourists, including Sylvan Lake’s Chateau Suites.

Some one-bedroom suites were available on weekends — which is unheard of in a usual summer. “Our numbers weren’t as impressive as last year,” said front desk worker Patrick Parenteau, who wondered what role the economy played in the decline.

But if people weren’t booking hotel rooms, many weren’t camping either.

June MacIntosh, manager of the Sunset Legion Campground on Gull Lake, estimates there were only about half the campers as usual on many weekends. “The weather was awful. There wasn’t a lot of hot, good camping weather.”

MacIntosh has a theory that people who haven’t worked in a while were grabbing at opportunities for summer employment, so had less time off for camping trips.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com