EDMONTON -- The tourism industry is hoping locals will fill the millions of dollars-wide gap COVID-19 will cause by the end of this summer.

Between May and August of 2019, 12,000 international travellers came to Edmonton. In 2017, Alberta's capital welcomed 7.3 million Canadian tourists, which the provincial government says generated $1.88 billion.

Through hosting dozens of events each season, Alberta's capital has earned the nickname 'Festival City.'

But rendered festivalless this year by the pandemic, the acting CEO of Edmonton Economic Development Corp. says her industry is one of the hardest hit by COVID-19.

Maggie Davison said EEDC, which operates the Edmonton Convention Centre and the Expo Centre, typically contributes more than $250 million in economic impact to the city. The organization first laid off 1,100 part-time staff, and in April, another 105 full-time employees.

"Those venues cost anywhere from $300,000 to $500,000 a month just to stay dark," Davison said. "And typically they're producing well over $50 million in economic impact each, and that’s with trade shows, exhibitions, meetings and conventions, concerts, sporting events — all of that has been stopped."

The interim CEO added hotels are running at about four or five per cent occupancy, instead of the usual 60 per cent.

Businesses are making it work however they can.

With revenue "down to zero," the owner of Big E Tours has pivoted and partnered with the city to offer guides through the Rossdale power plant.

"If things go well, we may be able to start offering those on weekends starting in July," Gary Poliquin told CTV News Edmonton.

So is River Valley Adventure Co., adding scooter tours and planning to reopen this week.

"This is our 15th anniversary in May of being open and we celebrated by being closed," said Chris Szydlowski. "So we need to get the revenue going."

But without people coming into the province, he and Poliquin are among the entrepreneurs and city encouraging Edmontonians to explore their own backyard.

"We’re anticipating it’ll be between two to three years (before) we’re back to pre-COVID numbers," Davison said.

"It’ll be a slow recovery."