© Guardian photo
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson makes walks to Province House recently.
Record number of visitors, spending totals ease criticism of $29-million party in 2014
If you promote it, they will come. That was evident when the latest figures for the 2014 tourism season were released last week. Government officials and industry members were beaming after the numbers were presented at the annual meeting of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I.
It was a record year for tourism, with 1,359,858 visitors coming to the Island, spending an estimated $401 million. Both were record-setting totals. In a year when tourism was slow or stagnant in other regions of Canada, P.E.I. defied the trend and saw increases of 3.8 per cent in visitors and 5.1 per cent in spending, smashing projected targets to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference.
There was also a staggering amount of dollars spent to achieve those impressive figures. Some people might criticize the expenditure of $18.5 million from the province, close to $7 million by Ottawa and several more millions through municipal, corporate and industry sponsorships, to promote the anniversary year.
The approximate $29-million total covered a lot of bases — promotion, advertising, free entertainment, meetings and conventions, innumerable events both large and small across the province, and support for upkeep and repairs at many venues.
Most areas of the province got a little piece of the pie but there is little argument that Charlottetown reaped the most rewards. Tourism Minister Robert Henderson said 40 per cent of the 2014 funding was spent in and around the Charlottetown area but when you go across Prince Edward Island, a lot of tourism operators had a great year.
Not everyone will be satisfied with the results. The government has long been accused of spending almost $30 million on a party and leaving little in the way of a legacy. Record tourist numbers and record spending to the benefit of the entire province offers tangible results, and deserve more credit than a dismissive ‘wasted party’ description.
Yes, the province could have built a provincial museum but would those tourism records have been set with that facility sitting resplendent on the Charlottetown waterfront? It is a legacy perhaps better suited for Canada’s 2017 anniversary year. It is expensive to get out the message to come visit our Island. In a usual year, the tourism advertising budget is approximately $4 million. It doesn’t go far with national television, newspapers and magazine advertising costs.
If tourism operators are not happy with 2014 numbers, then there will be no pleasing them.
P.E.I. must diversify
P.E.I. has to soon shake off its anniversary party hangover and get down to the serious business of trying to match those record tourism numbers for next year – perhaps immediately after the 2014 wrap-up party in Summerside on Dec. 31.
The advertising blitz leading up to and including 2014 should pay dividends into the future. P.E.I. has that all-important enhanced name recognition. There are a lot of people talking about the great party in 2014 and they want to come back, and those who couldn’t make it here this year will hopefully make it in 2015.
Premier Robert Ghiz told tourism industry officials they must continue to diversify. Other areas of Canada can boast all they want. When you package together what P.E.I. has to offer — golf courses, beaches, culinary and seafood experiences, weather, friendly people, fishing, cycling, entertainment attractions, low crime, scenery — it’s a very good little island to visit. We also have something very important that no one has — Anne of Green Gables.
And if gas prices stay low, it will go a long way toward ensuring P.E.I. will have a another strong tourism season in 2015.