A Message From TIANS - Provincial Visitor Information Centres
TIANS is very concerned with the announcement that the Province is considering closure of all the Provincial Visitor Information Centres. TIANS believes a comprehensive review of how we service visitors would ensure that decisions are being made in support of growing the visitor economy.
TIANS has been a strong proponent of public accountability and has actively encouraged government and Tourism Nova Scotia to look at innovative ways to run the business of tourism. We believe the visitor centres need to be reviewed in context of a broader conversation of overall visitor servicing. A review of locations; how many are needed; how we can commercialise them as sales centres; how they can be managed in a more effective way through private/public partnerships working with the municipalities - these are all extremely important questions as we strive to be more effective with limited resources.
Although there are a number of regional centres (non-provincial) operating in communities, most of them have very limited resources. They rely on the federal summer jobs program for staff and are supported by municipal and business groups in the regions, with a small amount of funding from Tourism Nova Scotia (if they meet certain criteria). There are issues around quality and capacity with some of the regional centres and we believe visitor servicing must be considered in totality of Nova Scotia as a Destination.
Last year, Tourism Nova Scotia announced the closure of the Digby and Pictou Provincial Centres. We were advised this was because both had municipal centres next door; that there would be a strategic review of visitor servicing in totality and investment in best-in-class locations. This thoughtful review has not happened and here we are, a year later, with the possibility of losing some of the most strategic locations and opportunities for sales.
While we recognise the model for visitor services is changing, we do not have information that suggests elimination of face-to-face services is the best way forward for Nova Scotia. Technology is changing the way people travel and we agree the role of visitor centres needs to evolve, with a focus on increasing economic activity. There are examples all over the world of how destinations are adapting to better meet the needs of the global customer. How will we define our visitor services to best capture the essence of Nova Scotia and position ourselves for incremental economic growth.
Currently the Provincial Centres are relied on heavily by operators to book business, especially at strategic locations. TIANS is very concerned that there has been no research done to determine the economic impact on tourism businesses, as a result of the closures. One operator has reported business referrals from provincial centres were in excess of $30,000.00 in 2015.
In the fall of 2015, in an effort to understand this issue, TIANS posed a number of questions to Tourism Nova Scotia:
• Where does the elimination of this tourism infrastructure fit into the 2013 Industry led Tourism Strategy?
• Has there been any research to determine the impact on local industry with regards to direct referrals or bookings? Are you aware of current economic impact from sales activity?
• The three entry points of Amherst, Yarmouth and Port Hastings have unique opportunities for influencing sales. Have there been alternate options considered, that could see a transfer of ownership with declining financial support over a designated period to municipal and private interest? Other than declining visitation numbers at the Centres; what other factors were considered?
• Peggy’s Cove is a provincial icon that attracts almost 600,000 visitors a year. As Tourism Nova Scotia develops its Icon Strategy, how will the lack of visitor services affect future plans for commercialization at this site?
• Over the past few years, Government has made a concerted effort to move “good jobs” into rural communities with the relocation of many government services; how many positions will be affected in the rural regions by the proposed closures? What are the proposed savings? Are the savings being secured by Tourism Nova Scotia for reinvestment in the tourism industry?
Over the past few weeks we have heard growing concerns from many operators around the potential closures and the fact that this may simply be a cost cutting measure by government to reduce the tourism budget. Understandably people want answers and we need to know how this action supports our collective goal around tourism growth.
For every $1 invested in tourism another $3.2 is generated in the community – eliminating the infrastructure required to sell the province is counter-intuitive to a robust growth agenda.
TIANS will continue to push for clarity and answers, and to ensure that the industry perspective is part of a broader discussion on how we improve our ability to sell Nova Scotia products and experiences. We encourage you to do the same in your community.