HALIFAX – Amid concerns that a high Canadian dollar and rising gas prices will seriously impact Nova Scotia’s tourism sector this summer, businesses across the province are scrambling to reposition themselves in the marketplace. However, in spite of the ongoing challenges, many experts remain optimistic about the industry’s net revenue potential.  

“The climate is similar to what we experienced after 9/11,” says Charles Cirtwill, executive VP of the Atlantic Institute of Market Studies (AIMS) in Halifax. “But I don’t think things are going to be as bad as everyone thinks.” Last year, Nova Scotia welcomed almost two million visitors to its shores, bringing nearly $1.4 billion into the province. Those numbers were expected to rise in 2008, thanks in part to a $5 million marketing campaign created to drive potential visitors to novascotia.com, the province’s revamped tourism website that is the centerpiece of the sector’s re-branding strategy.

However, there have been concerns that the call-out to visitors from Europe and other parts of Canada to ‘sample’ and ‘buy’ the Nova Scotia experience – outdoor adventure, cuisine, culture, heritage and the seacoast – has been falling on deaf ears and empty wallets. Recent polls across the country and elsewhere suggest that many traditional summer travelers are choosing to stay closer to home this year.

“Ironically, this might very well turn out to be good news,” says Cirtwill. “As traveling has become so cost-prohibitive in recent months, we are going to see more visitors from our immediate region.” He also believes that locals will rediscover the joys of the ‘tourist traps’ in their own backyards. “Let’s face it – many of us here at home won’t be going too far this year either,” he adds. “Fortunately, these fiscal realities equate with local potential.”

Darlene Grant-Fiander agrees. The president of the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) says while it might be too early to start celebrating, a recent survey by her organization indicated that over 70% of related business owners across the province are feeling upbeat about the upcoming tourist season. “Not only do we expect to see more people from other parts of Atlantic Canada coming to Nova Scotia,” she says, “but we are expecting them to stay longer.”

To that end, local and area companies are changing the way they do business. “We are seeing more partnering among local establishments,” she adds, “in an attempt to build volume through value.”

By way of example, Casino Nova Scotia has recently redesigned its offerings with a series of affordable ‘Stay and Play’ packages that include dining, entertainment and hotel options. These bundles have been developed specifically for both locals looking to enjoy a night on the town or a weekend ‘holidate,’ and potential visitors from New Brunswick, PEI and Newfoundland who want to take in a few days in the big city. Restaurants in the area also seem to be adapting, shortening menus and hiring less staff, and other businesses along the Halifax waterfront are making changes as well.

“We have tweaked our tour focus a little by talking more about the history of the city itself, rather than the entire province,” says Robin Stewart of the Halifax Harbour Hopper. One souvenir shop owner, who wished to remain anonymous, has been forced to stock his shelves with new products. “I have a greater variety of stuff this year,” he says. “I can’t afford to sell only to tourists any more.”

“It is important that we remember that these trends are cyclical,” says Charles Cirtwill. “As such, the sector has specific strategies in place to adapt to those market changes. By all estimates, the industry will be fine this year.” – Nova Scotia Business Journal