Atlantic Lottery president and CEO Brent Scrimshaw and Penny Walsh McGuire stand by the official sign of the Celebration Zone at Confederation Landing Park.
While tourism officials were unveiling a giant red 2014 sculpture in Charlottetown last week, innkeepers Don McCallum and Anne Arsenault were doing what they always do this time of year — hoping tourists will make their way to the outermost tips of the Island this summer.
Tourist industry and government officials have been touting 2014 as a major year for the P.E.I. tourism sector.
Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference is expected to cost just under $29 million in total — $18.5 million from the province and the rest from the federal government, municipal governments and some corporate sponsors.
But operators in Souris and Tignish are not so convinced all this spending on 2014 will make much of a difference to operators outside of Charlottetown.
Arsenault owns the Tignish Heritage Inn, as well as several cottages in her community, located 140 kilometres west of Charlottetown. So far her bookings are no different this year over last.
But she hopes the anticipated boom in tourism this year will force visitors out to some of P.E.I.’s rural areas, including her own.
“If it’s that busy in the larger areas, it’ll push the people out as an overflow,” Arsenault said.
“It was like that at one time, we haven’t seen those numbers in a while but it would be nice to see that for sure.”
On the other end of P.E.I., McCallum is busy getting his Singing Sands Inn ready for the upcoming season.
When asked whether he believes the 2014 celebrations and promotions will help his business this year, McCallum was skeptical.
“These things never do help those of us out on the extremes,” he said.
He tries to spin this into an advantage.
His website points out only 15 per cent of Island visitors make their way to eastern P.E.I. every year. He uses this to entice tourists who want to be close a beautiful beach away from crowds.
Tourism Minister Robert Henderson, on the other hand, says all signs point to more visitors this year.
There was a 50 per cent jump in website hits and more room nights sold in P.E.I. hotels last month.
“I’m hopeful that trend will continue and I’m confident it will continue, and when it does all of sudden people will say, ‘Maybe that wasn’t so bad, maybe Henderson was right,’” the tourism minister said.
He likes to point out the $29-million total 2014 budget is only a third of one per cent of the total provincial budget.
But he acknowledges the optics of spending this amount on a year-long party are tricky at a time when department budgets have been frozen for the last three years as the province struggles to balance its books.
He says it’s an investment in P.E.I.’s tourism sector that will generate revenues and offer promotion that will help the industry well after 2014 is over.
“You can always more money in health care, you can always spend more money in education, but the reality is, tourism, agriculture fisheries — those are the things that create economic wealth in the province,” Henderson said.
“Investing in tourism and culture will generate tax revenue back.”
Tourism operators are crossing their fingers Henderson will indeed be proven right.
“I just hope it does make a significant difference this year,” Arsenault said. “God help us, we need it.”