Beginning May 15, Nova Scotia-bound travelers have a new transit option from Maine: getting there by cruise-ship-style ferry.
Scheduled to depart at 9 p.m. nightly, the 1,215-passenger Nova Star will launch from Portland to make the 10-hour overnight crossing to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, on the province’s southwest coast. The return, daytime trips will depart Yarmouth at 10 a.m.
The ship will blend car ferry service with cruise ship caliber amenities. Diversions will include three restaurants, two bars plus a piano lounge, a casino with two blackjack tables and slot machines, a spa offering massages and facials, a gym, an art gallery, a children’s play area and a shop.
Travelers can choose to reserve one of the ship’s 162 cabins, which sleep up to four people and include a private bathroom with a shower. Another 254 recliner seats modeled on those found in the business sections of airplanes are also available by reservation.
Fares start at $79 ($39 for ages 5 to 12); recliner seats cost an additional $39 each and cabins start at $79 extra.
Provincial tourism officials tout Yarmouth as the start of a local lighthouse trail that follows the Atlantic coast up to Halifax, a center for lobster fishing and a base for exploring the wildlife and tides of the nearby Bay of Fundy.
“Your heart will never leave.”
Wow! What a slogan for tourists and even those Capers who have left us and must live in Cape Breton in their hearts and memories. The good news is that the new brand created by Destination Cape Breton Association increasingly resonates with visitors to our beautiful island. I can, in fact, report that tourism is on the upswing, that we are gradually being discovered. I know this because I attended Industry Day in Baddeck a week ago when Destination Cape Breton delivered its annual report.
I sat with Ian Green, who operates a B and B on the North Shore. He told me a story which illustrates the affection of tourists for our island. A Texas couple who have come to Cape Breton the last four years for Celtic Colours and stayed with him, arrived at his place in October. As he was greeting the couple, the wife got out of the car and the first words she uttered were “I’m home.” Proper thing!
To back up the good news: Cape Breton Island led the entire Atlantic region in tourism growth in 2013. Also 2014 is shaping up as another banner year. We are gradually becoming persuasive marketers and the credit must go to Mary Tulle and her excellent staff at Destination Cape Breton, Lester Marchand and others at Fortress Louisbourg and the various tourism groups in our counties. It’s a collective effort.
Noelle MacLean, Director of Marketing at DCBA, broke down the 2013 numbers for us. The 2013 marketing objectives for room night sales were greatly exceeded. For example, DCBA projected an increase of 2 per cent in room nights but ended up with 5 per cent, or 18,000 additional room nights for a total of 393,000, with an average spend of $1,022 or 4.4 per cent over the stay. That’s slightly below the goal of 5 per cent for spending. The area held its own in length of stay, at 4.8 days. No other area in Atlantic Canada came close to these numbers in terms of increase in visitation. The direct revenue from the additional nights was $3,834,000. Now just imagine what it would do for our economy if the whole of Nova Scotia increased tourism revenues from $2 billion to $3 billion. It’s doable.
I should mention here the increased attention from the media. It amounted to the equivalent of $575,000 and is growing. Also, the return on investment in advertising exceeded expectations. For every dollar invested, the return was $37.
Traffic on the website was way up to 104 per cent and website visitation maintained the level of quality. What is promising is that there is a healthy interest from Ontario, at 33 per cent, and the numbers for the States are up. As a result of refined methods, both the DCBA and the Department of tourism will capitalize those areas. The goal is to increase web traffic and experiential tourism.
Incidentally, the Trail and the Fortress, the Bras D’Or and Cape Breton music are big attractions. At Louisbourg, Lester Marchand and his staff hope to duplicate the 100,000 visitors to the Fortress last summer.
There was much information provided at the annual meeting – on golf (a topic that I shall explore), on website design, major festivals, the promotion of the brand. Go to the CB Island website (http://www.cbisland.com/) to note the improvements and to the DCBA website to read the marketing report (http://dcba-info.com/marketing-promotion/).
LeRoy Peach lives in Port Morien and may be reached at email@example.com.His column appears every two weeks in the Cape Breton Post.
Fortress activities expected to have lasting effect
Lester Marchand, visitor experience manager for Parks Canada at the Fortress of Louisbourg, says increased tourism as a result of last summer’s Louisbourg 300 celebrations was no accident. He says more activities at the fortress will help tourism continue to grow. (TOM AYERS / Cape Breton Bureau)
LOUISBOURG — While tourism numbers declined in the rest of the province, they increased in Cape Breton last year, thanks at least in part to celebrations around the 300th anniversary of Louisbourg’s founding.
Local tourism accommodation operators are pleased with the numbers from last year and are hoping the growth can be maintained.
“I would say it was a strong year,” said Connie Bowers, owner of A Paradise Found Bed & Breakfast in Sydney.
“We took a week off for our own purposes, and it was still better than the previous year. I would say last year was better than the last couple of years.”
Bowers said more and better marketing of Cape Breton as a destination seems to be taking effect.
Earlene Busch, innkeeper at the Chanterelle Country Inn on the Cabot Trail along St. Anns Bay, said last year’s tourist season was better than previous ones. However, it would be difficult to attribute the growth to a particular event, Busch said.
“We were up, there’s no doubt about that, but we’ve been steadily going up anyway because we have a unique offering. The Louisbourg300 event was certainly a great boost to the province.”
She said Destination Cape Breton Association, which levies a room tax and uses the money for marketing the island, has been doing a good job, and Busch is encouraged by its new marketing team.
Linda Kennedy, owner of Point of View Suites in Louisbourg, said accommodations increased significantly last year and the buzz from the celebrations at the fortress last year should carry over into this season.
“I certainly hope so, and with the dollars that were spent, we should see a spillover this year,” Kennedy said.
She said the room levy for marketing was controversial, but Kennedy supported it from the beginning because all tourism operators need to raise awareness of their offerings in Cape Breton and elsewhere, and that means spending money to make money.
“It’s a necessary evil. If you don’t spend it, they won’t know you’re here.”
Parks Canada says visitors to the fortress increased significantly following the Louisbourg300 events, with almost 103,000 people coming through the gate. That is a 36.7 per cent hike over the previous year, when the fortress hosted 75,000 visitors. The federal department says the extra 27,600 visitors brought an additional $9.9 million in spending into the local economy.
As well, July and August room nights sold in Cape Breton, a measure of tourism, increased 6.4 per cent over the previous year, while in the rest of the province, room nights sold were down 3.1 per cent.
Parks Canada says it is the first time in a decade that Cape Breton has seen an increase while the rest of the province did not.
Lester Marchand, the department’s visitor experience manager at Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, said the increase in tourism was planned, but it wasn’t a one-shot deal. Some of the activities held last year will return, and new ones are in the works.
Marchand said early plans for the Louisbourg300 event came at a time when Parks Canada shifted its thinking across the country to focus more on visitor experiences.
“Do we want to be a monument that’s untouched, or a place that’s used? That’s what Louisbourg300 was all about. Stop talking about buildings and start talking about experiences we can have in these buildings.”
The fortress partnered with community organizations and businesses to create products and activities that generate excitement and income, he said.
For example, the fortress partnered with Authentic Seacoast of Guysborough to produce an organic French roast coffee that is now sold in stores, and activities at the fortress such as learning to split cod or fire a cannon have attracted public interest.
And the LouisRocks concert series last year — that featured an outdoor stage with acts such as Colin Grant, Joel Plaskett and Matt Andersen — was an experiment that worked. The fortress plans to host several more outdoor concerts this year. However, Marchand said, Parks Canada has to be careful to build infrastructure that won’t interfere with the historical nature of the fortress.
Louisbourg will also host rum-tasting events later this year, with a special rum to be produced by Authentic Seacoast, and it will add a gay pride day to its annual Mi’kmaq and Acadian heritage days.
“We need to use this site, which belongs to all of us, to improve people’s lives,” said Marchand. “These kinds of things … have really brought some fresh air into our parks.”
He said Parks Canada staff have discussed the classic Cape Breton conundrum of out-migration and are hopeful that increased activity at the fortress can give people a reason to stay here and create businesses.
Attracting more tourists means making sure local communities can handle the traffic, but Parks Canada has been meeting with businesses to discuss what is needed.
“We still have a lot of work to do to make it sustainable,” said Marchand. “We know that the success of the Fortress of Louisbourg is dependent on the success of the community of Louisbourg. We will engage with anybody who wants to serve the community while maintaining our mandate to preserve this place.”