UPEI axes Tourism Research Centre

Teresa Wright
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FILE PHOTO - Tourism Minister Robert Henderson says visitors are increasingly turning to computers and mobile devices to get information about Prince Edward Island rather than ordering a copy of the annual Visitor Guide.

After almost a decade in operation and close to $2 million in provincial support, the Tourism Research Centre at UPEI has been axed.

The university informed the P.E.I. government of its intention to close the TRC at the end of March, leaving provincial officials scrambling to come up with an alternative to measure this year’s tourism statistics.

No one from the university was made available for an interview, but a spokesperson told The Guardian a variety of factors played into the decision to dissolve the TRC.

One key factor was that there was no interest from any university staff to serve as faculty director.

“Most research centres at universities are led by a faculty member who is not paid for this activity, but is given course release from teaching,” UPEI media relations officer Sheila Kerry wrote in an email to The Guardian.

“Therefore, after looking at its viability in moving forward, the university decided to close the centre, as it was deemed unsustainable after its current contracts were finished.”

Tourism Minister Robert Henderson says he does not fully know why UPEI made the decision to close the centre, speculating it might have been a result of UPEI’s ongoing budget challenges.

He was merely informed by the university in March the TRC would be closing on June 30.

“Our funding has been extremely stable since 2006, so the core funding that we were providing hasn’t really changed,” Henderson said. “We were kind of caught somewhat off-guard by it in that regard, but it’s up to them, they make their own decisions.”

Since the TRC planned to close in the middle of the tourism year, the department was left trying to coming up with a plan on how to continue the work that has been performed by the TRC since 2006.

Timing was especially important, as this year has been touted as a major tourism year for the province with the 150th anniversary celebrations of the Charlottetown Conference in full swing.

“We feel it was extremely important especially this year, that we continue with our exit surveys, make sure we monitor and get feedback on some of the various events,” Henderson said.

“All those things are important to get a sense from our visitors of what did they like, what they didn’t like, what are ways that we can improve and assimilate that information and make decisions based on hard facts.”

That’s why Tourism P.E.I. has now entered into an agreement with the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. and P.E.I. 2014 Inc. to continue this year’s tourism data research. Two former TRC staffers have been hired to perform the research, in an effort to streamline the transition and ensure continuity.

P.E.I. 2014 Inc. is providing $95,000 from its budget for the research this year, while the remaining $205,000 is coming from Tourism P.E.I.

But Opposition tourism critic James Aylward says he is concerned over the fact P.E.I. 2014 Inc. is one of the bodies responsible for measuring the impact of its own initiatives to increase visitation to P.E.I. this year. He suggests a conflict of interest could perhaps exist.

“How can you count on those numbers being solely independent when you’ve got an organization now that’s directly tied to the Department of Tourism being responsible for doing exit surveys and being responsible to tabulating numbers versus having an organization that is arms-length?” Aylward said.

“How accurate are those numbers going to be?”

Henderson said since P.E.I. 2014 Inc. will not exist after this year, there is no incentive for it to misrepresent the year’s tourism figures.

“This is just really the final evaluation of the whole way we’ve invested money over the last three or four years into this celebration,” Henderson said.

“We were caught with really short notice in this information that UPEI has decided to shut down the Tourism Research Centre, so this is something that we had to do fairly quickly,” he added.

The tourism research agreement with TIAPEI and P.E.I. 2014 Inc. is in place until the end of the fiscal year.

The department is currently working on a plan on how to handle future tourism research.

twright@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianTeresa

Organizations: Tourism Research Centre, Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. and P.E.I., Department of Tourism

Geographic location: Charlottetown

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Recent comments

  • skeptic
    July 03, 2014 - 14:03

    Maybe the reason UPEI decided to scrap the TRC is the scandal that is historically associated with it. No one wants to touch the damaged goods with a ten-foot pole.

  • bigjimpei
    July 03, 2014 - 12:02

    So it will cost $300 000 for 2 staff to collect these numbers this year for a partial year, and no one in the know seems shocked by that number so presumably that's what it costs to collect and disburse the information. The province has been paying $200 000 a year to UPEI to do the same job with 12 staff, so UPEI was funding at least $100 000 a year out of pocket and figuring 10 extra salaries probably closer to $400 000 out of pocket. Gee I wonder what great conspiracy prompted a university with budget problems to decide they were done with that deal.

  • applez
    July 03, 2014 - 10:49

    I like the info. coming from Ministers office on how the the new stats.will be fair.Does he know that these people will be looking for work with the Government after 2014. No question the stats.these people create will be bogus. It will not shoe the millions will result in no assets to show for this waste.

  • THE CITIZENS OF PEI
    July 03, 2014 - 06:20

    We, the citizens, know why the tourism research program was scrapped. It was a fund-funneling from the taxpayers piece of work. What other funneling "research" projects are the government and UPEI going to concoct? It is worth it, financially, for the taxpayer to be wary.

    • Hiram O'Kelley from Canoe Cove
      July 08, 2014 - 11:13

      A few year ago there was a few questions put to the then Minister of Tourism, Robert Vessey, about public funds from the Dept of Tourism going into Prof sean Hennessey's private cover company called TRC that was operating within the "official" UPEI - TRC with employees paid for with ACOA and PEI Dept of Tourism public funds. The MLA, Jim Bagnall, inquired to the Minister Vessey why public funds were going to a private company operated by Hennessey and not to the UPEI-TRC? Minisster Vessey said that MLA Bagnall was "going down into the weeds" with this line of questioning yet the same professor Hennessey pleaded guilty to 9-12 criminal charges of tax fraud and evasion on about $190000 of public funds that should have been paid to the official UPEI - TRC. To date, professor Hennessey has to pay taxes on this unreported income but to my knowledge, the Dept of Tourism never recovered the public funds nor did ACOA that ended up in the private Hennessey cover story called TRC… PEI is quite the place for systemic white collar crime an it obviously pays for some protected people….

  • Garth Staples
    July 03, 2014 - 05:29

    Should never been given the mandate it had in the beginning. As I wrote before: The Dept of Tourism collected the travel data, created a statistical record and provided the information free to any who wanted it, including TIAPEI. The Dept also did other developmental research. Staff included a full time director and four summer staff! Compare this to 12 staff at UPEI. The decision was made in March and we are just finding out about it now? Where was the Minister? Where was TIAPEI? Where was the Opposition and the NDP? What will the stats look like this year? LOL.

    • don
      July 03, 2014 - 07:42

      garth i agree with you. and to me something stinks. with upei needing money and they give up 2 mill. we need the truth not more bull crap. so next time you drive pass upei and you smell something strange you know what it is.