Revelstuck syndrome not so good for local hotels and retailers

Local powder hounds love it. A snowstorm hits, the highways close and tourists can’t get through, leaving the snow for locals to enjoy and play in and with less people to share in.

For Revelstoke businesses, it’s just the opposite. The constant road closures that shut down the Trans-Canada on both sides of Revelstoke (sometimes for extended periods) over the first few weeks of January.

“It’s like night and day. It goes from extremely busy to 10 per cent of what we normally expect,” said Greg Byman, owner of Rough Country Marine, which sells a variety of products but does cater to snowmobilers.

“From what I’ve heard from our businesses, this has been a bad couple of weeks for them,” said John Devitt, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Byman, who is also on the executive of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, said the closures impact tourists in two ways. First, they can’t get in. Second, they might stay home out of fear of not being able to get back home for work on Monday.

He noted it most at the opening of the Boulder Mountain cabin on Jan. 15, when only about 60 people came out, instead of the usual 300-plus.

“With the highway closed Albertans and Saskatchewaners couldn’t make it out here,” said Byman. “It’s a big economic loss when they don’t come out here.”

At Cooper’s grocery store, the number of shoppers stayed steady throughout the week, said operations manager Geri Sanborn. She said the fact that locals couldn’t go shopping out of town probably counter-acted any loss from tourists.

“People didn’t leave, so maybe it’s not the tourists but its our locals shopping,” she said.

For Revelstoke’s hotels, its mostly a negative impact. While there is some benefit in that people might have to stay longer due to the inability to get home, it also means more cancellations by people who don’t make it here.

“Most road closures for us, we’re lucky if we net out to a zero, meaning we lose some but we pick up a few,” said Norm Langlois, manager of the Coast Hillcrest Hotel.

A similar experience was reported by the Powder Springs hotel, said manager Emma Kirkland.

“It really is a hit and miss situation,” she said. “Sometimes if your hotel is full and people can’t leave then they stay another night. But obviously, on the turn from that, there’s people who want to come that can’t get here. I would say it’s more a negative than a positive.”

Langlois, who is also the president of the Revelstoke Accommodation Association, did not have any statistics available about cancellations and occupancy rates but he said he heard from other hotel managers that they lost out on bookings due to the closures.

“What we really lost is two weekends. A lot of Revelstoke traffic on the weekend is last minute, people coming just to enjoy the outdoors and making their plans at the last minute,” he said. “I think we lost a lot of last minute traffic.”

Devitt thinks that Revelstoke could make use of the oft-closed highways in its tourism promotion.

“One thing we discovered is there are a lot of people who have fond memories of being stuck in Revelstoke and maybe we should think of embracing that as a marketing tool,” he said.