GUYSBOROUGH – “The thing we would like to emphasize is the importance of community in tourism,” said Stephen Flemming, president of Tourism Guysborough County Association, when asked what he’d like to see in the province’s new strategic plan for tourism.
Last week (June 7), the province issued a news release announcing that it and the Tourism Industry Association of Nova Scotia (TIANS) will partner to develop a new strategic plan for Nova Scotia’s tourism sector. “The plan will establish a new vision for tourism, taking into consideration the needs of businesses and organizations, Nova Scotians and their communities and traveller preferences and expectations…[and] leverage assets like national parks, winter and summer sports, food and culture; support film to showcase Nova Scotia’s beauty and unique experiences,” said the release.
Flemming explained that the Tourism Guysborough County Association’s focus has been to create authentic experiences that go beyond the traditional tourism offerings: “We have wonderful storytellers in our communities but they’re very timid about wanting to step out, [and] would never see themselves in the context of the tourism community but some of them have wonderful stories and, with help, could do that. That benefits community … and it meets travellers’ interests and expectations because they’re not interested in tourism, they’re interested in Nova Scotia – that’s why they came here.”
When it comes to expectations, the availability of food, lodging and public restrooms are top of the list for tourists, especially when they can’t be found.
“One of the things we must have a conversation around is achieving food services, restrooms, and Wi-Fi connectivity,” said Flemming. “What I think is most important is that we have a set of open conversations about how to achieve that. We have identified key areas [where] we think we need to invest. We’re not trying to say everything all over the place; with a strategic approach, you can have a number of places that can achieve those ends. That requires a different way of thinking and really a partnership between business, provincial, municipal counterparts and exploring what we can do and how we can do it.
“We are interested in and are pursuing new experiences that are both natural and cultural that really reflect the authentic nature of … our community in that broader sense. That’s something that is in progress. We are getting a start this year. This is something that is going to require a longer-term investment and linking things up.”
Speaking of tourism investment, the Tourism Guysborough County Association announced the receipt of $30,000 in funding though the Rediscover Main Street Program on June 10. The money from this federal program will go towards revitalization initiatives for Canso, Guysborough and Sherbrooke, including special events in each of the three communities. The focus is on the Waterfront Marina in Guysborough, the Farmers Market in Sherbrooke, and the waterfront and other locations in Canso.
“For both Guysborough and Canso, $9,000 has been allocated to each community for signage and music. The Sherbrooke Farmers Market has been allocated $8,500 towards brochure production, sandwich boards, and artist participation in the market. A ‘Secrets Worth Sharing’ allocation of $3,500 has also been allocated to provide video marketing capability for each of the communities at special events and at local visitor centres, if desired. The video presentation will depict what is happening each week during the summer throughout Guysborough County,” explained an association press release.
Looking forward to opportunities on the near horizon, Flemming said, “Two things that are kind of obvious right now are the whale sanctuary, where we need to have tourism help maintain the sense of sanctuary. That means no build up around the sanctuary … What are the kinds of tourism experiences that people will be interested in … [that] would work and would be in the area? That’s something we need to achieve.
“The spaceport going ahead near Canso means we’ll be talking about somewhere around 8,000 people a year, a thousand at a time per launch. What are you going to do with 1,000 people in February? We need to develop experiences, services and hotels. It’s a regional planning process. When people come, they’re going to come for a week so let’s give them a whole suite of experiences that they can enjoy. This is a benefit for [not only] Guysborough County but also regionally,” said Flemming.
For many people visiting Nova Scotia, Flemming said they typically land in Halifax and drive directly to Cape Breton and back. “That’s two times they’ve missed authentic Nova Scotia on either side… as a strategy, and as a way of encouragement, we have to help visitors understand the experiences that can be had. And we have to dispel some of the notions of the lack of good roads and so on. But there is some truth in the lack of washrooms and connectivity, and so on, so that’s where investment needs to happen.
“We want to grow tourism, then let’s take advantage of the attraction of Cape Breton, it’s wonderful. It’s not a competition here, it’s about how do we have people travel through the area…you need services and wonderful experiences. That’s the thing that we would love to have conversations about as an organization and to see action on. Some of that is going to require financial investment. A lot of that is going to require community participation. We’ll work hard on the latter,” said Flemming.