Cat ferry numbers bode well for tourism, says Annapolis inn owner
Early signs suggest it’s going to be a good season ahead for tourism operators in southwest Nova Scotia – and that’s on top of a couple of the best years ever.
An Annapolis Royal inn owner says a significant increase in advance bookings on the Cat ferry in Yarmouth this year is a positive indicator.
“I suspect it’s the result of a combination of Bay Ferries having a full year of in-market promotion, both on their own and in partnership with others; tour operators having the confidence to use the Cat now that it is in operation and has a long-term commitment with the government; and the increased interest we are seeing from the USA to visit NS,” said Paul Stackhouse, owner of Hillsdale House Inn.
“We took a snapshot at the end of April and our advance bookings this year are up. I’m not going to get into absolute numbers, but they’re up roughly five-fold over last year,” said Mark Macdonald, president and CEO of Bay Ferries. He says higher June numbers are attributable to the fact last year’s season only started June 14. This year the Cat ferry starts its second sailing season May 31.
The Cat is a fast boat and Stackhouse thinks that may be important as well.
“Although I don’t have any actual research, I recall hearing that there was a greater interest in this type of ferry versus the former cruise ferry, as people simply wanted to make the crossing more quickly and not have to spend the night on the boat,” Stackhouse said. “I suspect this is having some positive affect on bookings as well.”
He said access is key for the tourism sector.
“The more ways for people to get to NS the better,” he said. “That is why it’s also good to hear about the Elite flights coming soon from Portland.”
The last few years have been good to people in his business - everything from the Canadian dollar, the price of gas, and now a travel ban to the United States that could see European tourists head to Canada instead of the States where they might be refused entry.
“Everybody we’ve talked to, the other innkeepers, all felt it’s been very positive,” said Stackhouse. “They’ve seen growth particularly in the last two years. I think there’s a lot of optimism for a change, that wasn’t there a few years ago.”
He said while there are a number of factors involved in the recent success, he believes the new direction the provincial government has taken in creating the Crown corporation Tourism Nova Scotia and allowing it to develop strategies and implement marketing plans for the province is having a positive affect.
Tourism revenues are estimated to be up from $2 billion in 2010 to $2.6 billion in 2016 and the goal is $4 billion by 2024. The 2016 provincial tax revenue is estimated at $168 million.
“Certainly the direction that Tourism Nova Scotia is taking aligns with what all the research tells you will attract visitors,” he said.
He said the emphasis on experiential tourism aligns with what the research is saying is what attracts people all over the world now.
“People don’t want to go and see static displays so much. They want to go and become part of it, and feel what it’s like to do it,” Stackhouse said.
He said they are also very interested in experiencing local food and beverages.
“And that’s something certainly Nova Scotia has come a long way in the last several years, initially with the wine industry which has really evolved and is gaining more and more recognition,” he said. “Now you’re seeing the craft breweries are popping up everywhere which are very popular, particularly with that younger generation and the distilleries and other things.”
He said some of the initiatives Tourism Nova Scotia has undertaken in the last couple of years are encouraging industry to develop new experiences that are aligned with the kind of visitors that stakeholders are trying to bring to the province.
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Paul Stackhouse, along with partner Val Stackhouse, own and operate Hillsdale House Inn in Annapolis Royal. The past two years have been good and the coming season looks promising as well, with advance bookings on the Cat ferry in Yarmouth up five-fold over last year.