‘It’s where the tourists stop first’
MLA worries about Cape Breton gateway’s future
The MLA for Sydney-Mira-Louisbourg is raising the alarm over concerns that the gateway to Cape Breton Island may be unmanned come next tourism season.
In the provincial legislature this week, PC MLA Alfie MacLeod asked Tourism Minister Mark Furey whether the Stephen McNeil Liberal government is closing provincial visitor information centres in Port Hastings, Yarmouth and Amherst.
The Port Hastings centre is located immediately after crossing onto Cape Breton after crossing the Canso Causeway and its staff, through the personal touch that they can offer, are really ambassadors for the island, MacLeod believes.
“(VICs) give you the real story of the community,” he said in a phone interview from Halifax. “The one in Port Hastings, you think about it, we’re going to be talking about the Cabot Trail, we’re going to be talking about
“These are jobs in the local area that are important to the local economy, which have a big impact overall to the local economy.” Alfie MacLeod PC MLA for Sydney-Mira-Louisbourg
the Bell Museum, the Fortress of Louisbourg, the Miners’ Museum . . . If you talk to a Cape Bretoner who is working in a VIC, you’re going to get some real fresh hospitality, a hint on today there’s fiddle music at St. Mike’s Hall in Baddeck, you’d have a great time if you want to go there and see what’s going on.”
In the legislature, MacLeod noted the province’s tourism industry generates $2.34 billion in revenue annually. Furey referred to an objective to double revenues over the next 10 years.
The minister said Tourism Nova Scotia has “engaged multiple stakeholders” in discussions around future options. He said those discussions are with communities across the province and with all of the 51 visitor information centres.
“We will continue with those discussions and that dialogue, and when there’s a decision made, Mr. Speaker, we will communicate it to all colleagues in the house,” Furey said.
“I believe the technical term for that is ‘gobbledygook,’” MacLeod said. “By doing it that way, it sounds more like no to me.”
Many in the sector have stressed the importance of cultivating cultural and experiential tourism. MacLeod noted that by going online or accessing a kiosk, visitors won’t get the one-on-one feedback from people with detailed knowledge on the full scope of what is available locally.
“These are jobs in the local area that are important to the local economy, which have a big impact overall to the local economy,” he said.
MacLeod noted the centres in Pictou and Digby closed last year, and visitors to the provincial park in Whycocomagh are now served via a kiosk.
“When I go to a kiosk, I can’t say, ‘Well, where can I get a good meal around here, where can I see some scenery that’s not on the normal track of everything?’” he said.
The investment in the centres versus their return to the Nova Scotia economy is “a no-brainer,” MacLeod added.
Dwayne MacDonald, an Inverness County councillor whose district includes Port Hastings, said removing staff from the Whycocomagh park has “basically killed that park.”
“It’s the gateway to Cape Breton,” MacDonald said, of the Port Hastings centre. “It’s where the tourists stop first when they’re coming on, so if they close that it would be just another shortsighted thing.”
MacDonald said it seems to be another example of someone in an office without first-hand knowledge of what goes on in the field making decisions about potential cuts.
“It seems like a bunch of actuaries in Halifax who have never been to this part of the province, I don’t think, who are sitting there cutting things not even remotely considering the outcome of what they’re doing,” he said.
“(Visitors) don’t want to come and see us, they want to live like us while they’re here, but if they don’t know how to get here or they don’t know where that culture is, or where they’re going to experience that culture, you can’t find that online.”