It’s time to have a conversation about tourism development

The new Minister for tourism, Bill Fraser, has a good commentary in the TJ today talking about how the new government is “ready to invest in tourism”.

It’s  nice to see they are now using the right return on the taxpayer investment language.  They used to talk about how the millions of government spending on tourism would generate new ‘revenue’ for the tourism industry and come up with some multiple.  That is the wrong numerator.  If the denominator is the tax dollars invested in tourism marketing, the numerator is incremental tax dollars generated as a result of that marketing – not general revenue to the industry.

But the main issue remains.  As I wrote about a few weeks ago, tourism industry revenue has been flat for years.  Despite a massively ambitious new tourism strategy in 2010 that was focused entirely on growing revenue, industry revenue declined (based on the most recent data we have access to).

I think we need to have an honest conversation about the tourism industry and its ‘growth’ potential given the local,  national and international context.

Again, I like tourism.  What I don’t like is our tendency to talk loosely about ‘growth’ potential without any serious analysis.  It would be okay for me if the tourism folks said “we don’t expect much growth in the coming years because of conditions x and y but we still see value in investing $13 million in tourism marketing to keep the industry from declining further”.

It just raises even more cynicism when you throw out all those rosy growth forecasts and it doesn’t happen.

In addition, an honest appraisal of the situation may lead to changes in approach.  Maybe we need to link tourism more closely to immigration.  Maybe we need to spend more time trying to attract tourism-related infrastructure investment rather than on marketing what we currently have.

Every time I work with local communities on economic development strategies I ask the question “who is out promoting the community for tourism infrastructure investment?” – new hotels, new tourism attractions, etc.  The answer is always no one.

In a business setting if the product isn’t selling, maybe you need to work on the product. I think it is a good idea to blend different tourism assets and experiences into themes but maybe we could use a few new tourism assets.

Anyway, I wish the new Minister well.

1 thought on “It’s time to have a conversation about tourism development

  1. I think the issue with tourism isn’t so much the lack of tourist attractions (at least in the Moncton region) as it is (a) communication, and (b) transportation.

    There is not a coherent tourism communication strategy. Even here in Moncton, the city distributes maps of the city that omit Dieppe and Riverview, and do not embrace the wider region including Shediac and Hopewell. I see no evidence of a coherent packagage listing the interesting attractions in the region, from Parlee Beach to Belliveau Orchards to Trites Sugar Bush.

    Transportation is even more significant. The major reason for sluggish tourism numbers over the last few years has been the cost of gas. With the car or RV the only means of travel to the region, this makes a big difference (you see the same trend in PEI, which has no shortage of attractions). And transportation within the region for people who arrive other means is beyond abysmal.

    If we were serious about tourism, we’d develop appropriate transportation and communication networks. Cottage industry tourist attractions are useless if nobody can get to them.

    In Moncton, which has an international airport, I’ve long believed we should have (and promote) a way to get to the attractions in the region. One major investment worth pursuing, for example, would be old-fashioned rail connecting Moncton to the coast (it could also connect the airport, and could eventually be run out to the rail museum in Hillsborough and even to the Rocks). A connecting tram should run from the train station to the Casino and Magnetic hill attractions.

    Another long-term objective we should be considering is a way to extend the U.S. ‘Down-Easter’ railway from Maine to Moncton. This would connect western NB with the attractions and transportation hub of the east, and provide a way for the many people without cars living in the eastern U.S. to get up to the cool weather and beautiful scenery of New Brunswick.

    And we should continue working with airlines to provide direct flights into Moncton from Europe. If there’s stuff to see (and a way to get to it) when they’re here, this branch of tourism will grow. This is especially the case if we can promote outdoor activities such as cycling and skiing.

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