By GRAHAM HICKS
Does it matter who actually owns a well-known building, a shopping mall, a condo tower, a hotel?
Usually it’s just Big Money being shuffled around – pension, insurance funds, major developers – buying and selling to each other.
Except for the exceptions.
Jasper’s hotel ownership has just gone through its biggest shake-up ever.
An entire culture is changing: Jasper’s Mountain Park Lodges (MPL) chain, owned by the same group of Edmonton families for the past 50 years, has sold controlling interest (60%) in its seven hotels to hospitality company Pursuit.
Pursuit, in turn, is a division of a global hotel/hospitality services company known as Viad Corporation, with $1.3 billion in revenues last year. Viad is a public company, traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
Pursuit is actually a re-branding of the venerable, long-family owned Brewster Travel Canada, sold to Viad a few years back. Brewster’s bus tours operated mostly in Banff National Park and the Columbia Icefield.
If that’s not confusing enough, the new umbrella name for Pursuit’s entire mountain holdings will be the “Banff Jasper Collection: a division of Pursuit.”
The charm of Jasper, I’ve always believed, was in its unique hotel ownership. There are no Marriotts or Holiday Inns in Jasper – every hotel in the townsite or nearby was owned by families or individuals living in Jasper, Edmonton or points between.
The five or six families that owned Mountain Park Lodges, I have sentimentally believed, have a deep collective emotional attachment to Jasper the way it is, a real, living community where small is beautiful, catering to tourism but not over-run by it. That’s in glaring contrast to glitzy tourist-dominated Banff, the Las Vegas of the Rockies!
MPL board chair John Day is one of Edmonton and Jasper’s most outstanding citizens, a developer (Enbridge Tower, Garneau Theatre, Old Strathcona) and community leader (NAIT board chair) truly sensitive to community needs.
So I am worried.
I am worried about change in Jasper. Because most of us love Jasper just the way it is.
Day says worry not.
“First and foremost,” he says, “Parks Canada has significant limits on development in Jasper. The commercial cap on Jasper is very real. One more (small) hotel can be built, between the Sawridge and Marmot hotel sites. It will be the last hotel built in Jasper for generations.”
Remember, he says, that the MPL group still retains 40% ownership of the seven hotels, and will have two representatives on the “Banff Jasper Collection” board. The consortium of Jasper businesses (including the MPL group) that own both the Marmot Basin ski resort and the Jasper SkyTram are not part of the Pursuit package. Not yet, anyways.
Day’s other observations have me a tad worried.
Pursuit/Viad, he says, has a powerful, global marketing presence in some 80 countries. As destinations, Jasper and Banff will be marketed as tourism “experiences” like never before.
But is that wanted? Does Jasper really want to be more like Banff – bursting at the seams with bus-riding tourists, not only in the summer, but year-round? Do we really want to see the back-country so in demand that remote campsites will need reservations made years ahead, rather than months?
Is bigger marketing clout necessarily better?
If only out of respect, I’ll give John Day the last word.
“This transaction will make Jasper better,” John says. “We wouldn’t do it otherwise.”
• Pursuit’s current hospitality/adventure portfolio: In Banff, Elk + Avenue Hotel, Mount Royal Hotel, Banff Gondola, sight-seeing and experience tours: At the Columbia Icefield, Skywalk, Icefield Adventure, Glacier View Lodge: In Jasper National Park, Maligne Lake Boat Tours.
• Being added to Pursuit’s portfolio with 60% ownership of Mountain Park Lodges: In Jasper, Crimson Hotel, Chateau Jasper, Lobstick Lodge, Marmot Lodge, Pyramid Lake Lodge plus controlling interest in the Sawridge Inn Jasper: Near Jasper Park’s east entrance, Pocahontas Cabins.