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Ferry problems impacted local tourism last season

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NEW GLASGOW – There was only a slight rise in tourism revenue locally despite the tide rising in other parts of the province, said the chair of Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores.

Wes Surrett, who also manages Pictou Lodge Resort in Pictou County, said the province took in $2.6 million in revenue for 2016, but based on the Northumberland Shore’s occupancy room numbers, it only experienced a one per cent increase.

Wes Surrett, who also manages Pictou Lodge Resort in Pictou County, said the province took in $2.6 million in revenue for 2016, but based on the Northumberland Shore’s occupancy room numbers, it only experienced a one per cent increase.

“It’s nice to see the increase, but the rest of the province is up four or five per cent,” he said. “We are not pulling our own weight in the province.”

Surrett said he sits on both the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia board as well as DEANS, and no one has an answer as to why the Northumberland shore isn’t seeing larger increases like other areas.

However, he said, problems with the Prince Edward Island ferry service this year most likely had something to do with it.

“Ten per cent less people came through Caribou this year compared to other years,” he said. “That was the largest impact.”

Northumberland Ferries Limited was forced to operate with only one ferry during peak tourism months because its second ship was required to undergo repairs. This meant longer than usual lineups at the wharfs in Caribou and Wood Islands, PEI, which left some tourists opting to cross on the Confederation Bridge and not traveling through Pictou County.

Surrett said a larger concern is that people who usually visit the area because they like the ferry service probably changed their travel plans this year and it may affect them coming back again next year.

The province is focusing its marketing on larger areas such as Cape Breton, Halifax and Peggy’s Cove in order to get people here, he said. It is hoped that smaller areas will benefit from that as people travel from one location to the next or explore outside of these big tourism sites, but it didn’t seem to be the case this year.

He said DEANS is going to take another look at having a marketing levy in place so that it can help promote the area better.  A levy of two or three per cent is charged on accommodations in Halifax and Cape Breton and that money is put into marketing the area.

Such a levy received support from Pictou County municipalities, but some other rural areas that participate in DEANS weren’t in favour, so the idea was put aside.

“We are revisiting it and rehashing our marketing levels,” he said. “If we get support in Pictou and Antigonish counties we will implement in those areas.”

Tourism is a large part of the economy both locally and provincially, he said. It generates $300 million in taxes and employs 40,000 Nova Scotians, but some people still don't see its value.

“When tourism is up, there is a return on that,” he said. “That tourism revenue is paying for hospitals and education.”  

Cindy MacKinnon, managing director of DEANS, said many new initiatives focusing on economic development are in the works for the Northumberland Shore, which includes areas of Colchester, Pictou, Antigonish and Guysborough counties.

Regional guides are currently in the works and they will list Canada 150 events if they are made available to DEANS. The guides are given out at local visitor information centres and on the ferries in the province.

DEANS is planning to open its visitor information centres again this season as long as provincial funding is in place.   

It also plans to strengthen its relationship with Northumberland Ferries Limited this year by taking on new projects, including a special event in the fall. More details will follow on this later, said MacKinnon, but in the meantime a committee has been formed to dress up the ferry terminal.

She said this might include some flowers and colourful chairs, but the goal is to make it feel warm and welcoming. The suggestion was brought up at a recent ferry meeting and it is something that can be done fairly easily in a short period of time.

MacKinnon said DEANS is also looking at keeping track of all festivals and sports events so businesses, accommodations and residents know what it happening in their hometowns.

She said this will help with scheduling and allow businesses to prepare their staff for the overflow of customers. It could also be used by people wanting to plan events on the Northumberland Shore because if they see that the weekend they had in mind is already busy, they could find another date.

“It’s not just festivals, but sporting events,” she said. “We want to try and put a strategy around all of the events. We want to bring everything in and make a real solid effort in pulling things together.”

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