© Nancy MacPhee/Journal Pioneer
Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. president Kevin Mouflier (left) and Stacy MacWilliams with West Isle Industries Ltd. chat with Tourism Minister Robert Henderson after the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce luncheon Wednesday. Henderson, guest speaker at the event, spoke about the 2014 celebrations and how businesses need to build on its momentum.
SUMMERSIDE — Businesses need to build on the momentum of the 2014 celebrations to help grow the province’s tourism industry, Tourism Minister Robert Henderson told members of the Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce.
A total of $5 million had been earmarked for 160 2014-related projects and events, which will be held from tip to tip throughout the year. Summerside will play host to the year’s finale on New Year’s Eve.
“As business owners you should be thinking on how you can capitalize on these exceptional visitation potentials that are out there,” said Henderson, who was guest speaker at the chamber’s luncheon on Wednesday. “It is not only our hotels and accommodations that can take advantage.”
The tourism industry on P.E.I., he noted, has economic spinoffs of $500 million and employs the equivalent of 7,400 full-time workers.
“It has a definite impact on the province and its economy and future,” said Henderson, whose department has a budget of $30 million, 70 per cent of which is spent on the province’s rural regions.
The provincial tax revenue generated through that investment, he noted, is about $45 million.
But, said the minister, the industry is at somewhat of a standstill, with tourism receipts “relatively flat” over the last decade.
“Although that might seem a bit disappointing we have to put that into perspective as many of our competitors, especially the Atlantic Provinces, have not had that distinction. They’ve actually dropped,” said Henderson. “The country as a tourism destination has underperformed. It is a very competitive marketplace out there.”
In fact, he noted, Canada - ranked the eighth most popular destination in the world in 1998 - has dropped in the standings to number 16. Henderson attributed that, in part, to the federal government’s $63-million cut, through the Canadian Tourism Commission, in marketing the country as a tourism destination.
With fewer marketing dollars being spent, the Tourism minister said that is why it is so important tourism operators on P.E.I. and all businesses take advantage of the significant celebration and its associated marketing taking place this year.
“We certainly have a very strong tourism product. And as our industry does become engaged you will see a mutual desire to see our visitation grow,” he added. “We have to give people a reason to come to Prince Edward Island and that is where events stimulate that. Once people get a chance to see Prince Edward Island they do tend to come back and explore other parts of the province.”
Some of the county’s long-standing events, such as Summerside’s Highland Gathering, the Tyne Valley Oyster Festival and the Acadian Festival, have received a boost thanks to 2014 funding.
And, said Henderson, its events like these that will attract visitors to the area, people, he added, who will return again if the experience is enjoyable.
He said the cruise ship industry booming, with a recorded 69 ships carrying 93,000 passengers who each spent, on average $80 in 2013, and the convention sector is rapidly growing - for 2014, already at 75 per cent of total bookings in 2013.
“It’s a one-day infomercial for Prince Edward Island and we are seeing some of those visitors that are returning.”
Henderson also pointed to an investment he had been criticized for in the media, the $300,000 government spent on bringing 120 international travel writers to the province for the Go Media conference.
Already, the exposure through articles, blogs, photos and reviews has been more than expected, equivalent to $5 million in media exposure.
“Those are the things that are having a big impact. Already, we have identified about a $10-million economic impact just from the cruise ship industry,” he added. “Even though the port of call is Charlottetown, passengers are here for a day. It’s not that far from Charlottetown to Summerside. We have to be innovative and creative and part of the exposure and experience of a cruise ship passenger is just the drive across Prince Edward Island from Charlottetown to Summerside or O’Leary. That part of how we market it.”
Growing tourism, he concluded, must be a collaborative effort, with tourism operators, other businesses, the province and the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. all on board and working together.