Coming to Cape Breton
After good year for tourism, 2017 expected to follow suit
Angelo Spinazzola has been running North River Kayak Tours for 24 years but it hasn’t been until the past year that he decided to move his business into another direction with his latest venture, River Nest Wilderness Cabins.
If the province’s latest tourism statistics are any indication, his timing is impeccable.
On Friday, the province announced that 2.2 million visitors came to Nova Scotia last year, an eight per cent increase from the previous year. Most importantly to Spinazzola, Cape Breton saw the largest increase in room nights sold, up 16 per cent from 2015. In comparison, the province saw its total growth in room nights up four per cent from 2015.
“Last year was probably one of the best years that I’ve seen in a good — I don’t remember the exact year but I’d say the best year in a good 12 years,” said Spinazzola, who offers kayak tours around Cape Breton from his home base in North River, employing five people during the season. “For us, anyway. It just exceeded everything.
“I just felt the timing was right for the River Nest Wilderness cabins.”
The cabins are slated to open in May and while bookings have been slow, Spinazzola says his business hasn’t really been promoted yet either.
“Nobody knows who I am — I’m only getting my advertising mechanisms out right now,” he says, adding he’s hearing advanced booking are strong for other operators this year. “Their bookings are high. And that’s an indicator when they overflow that they’ll be coming to me.”
Mary Tulle of Destination Cape Breton is confident that Spinazzola and other Cape Breton accommodation sellers will experience a good year in 2017.
“Operators are giving us a very positive indication that their numbers of pre-booking and advance booking are certainly on-par and in many cases higher than what they were last year so that’s all positive.”
Kelli MacDonald, acting communications director for Tourism Nova Scotia, says the 16 per cent increase in room nights sold combines local travel along with those visiting from out of province. Across the province (figures for individual regions weren’t available), it has resulted in 2.6 million room nights sold in 2016.
“In the peak months of tourism from June until fall, the occupancy rate was really high in Cape Breton in 2016 — 89 per cent I believe was in September, and that’s very high,” said MacDonald.
Tulle believes the overall provincial increase is a result of Cape Breton’s growing numbers.
“We know that there’s a strong market always for those who come to visit family and relatives but for pure tourists, we had an exceptionally strong year that was certainly felt island wide and yes to a degree, province wide,” said Tulle. “I think numbers speak volumes and I think that you can’t dispute a 16 per cent increase in room nights sold as being significant when the province overall is 4 per cent or if you were to take us out of that mix, and we want to point out mainland Nova Scotia versus Cape Breton Island, I think it’s maybe around 2 per cent to 2 and a half per cent room nights sold overall compared to our double digits.”
Tulle says she believes the years of promoting the island are paying off and the upcoming Canada 150 celebrations shouldn’t hurt either.
“We’re certainly optimistic about this past year as being our base year as we go forward.”
Angelo Spinazzola has been running North River Kayak Tours for 24 years and has only now decided to go into the accommodation business. He’s expecting a good year, especially in light of recent statistics on room nights sold.