By Carla Allen
The impact of restored ferry service for accommodation providers in this region has been dramatic for most.
Whereas the Cat ferry had afternoon or early evening departures, Nova Star sails out of Yarmouth in the morning and this is translating into more local room nights in comparison to the past four summers when there was no ferry service. During that time some establishments either closed down or were converted to seniors' residences.
At the Voyageur Motel, just outside Yarmouth town limits, a spokesperson said she has had more full nights this year than the last four years combined.
“They’re all tourists, they’re all using the ferry and they all love it,” she said. She added that visitors have told her the fare is “worth every penny.”
“They are ecstatic about it and that includes families with children,” she added.
“They (Nova Star operators) are doing a beautiful job.”
Esther Dares at Harbour's Edge B & B on Vancouver Street says their June month was the best June they’ve ever had.
“We have been open 17 years and even with two boats, we never sold as many rooms as we did this year,” she said.
She said their July bookings are second only to 2004. Dares attributes the weather in early July as a big factor as few people travel when there is a hurricane on the radar. She expects next July to have even higher numbers.
“We have enjoyed the company of a lot more U.S. citizens than we have seen in a long time,” she said.
She’s noticed that there are not many walk-on passengers and hopes this will be a target group for Nova Star next year. She sees that group as having more impact, being in the area for a day or so.
On the day she was interviewed, Dares had a full house and was trying to find alternate accommodations for other visitors.
“We have every confidence that the return of the ferry service is breathing life back into the tourism sector and we are also fairly confident that the Nova Star is a good fit. While most of our patrons are on their way out of the country, those who have arrived on the Nova Star are impressed,” she said.
She did express disappointment in the lack of services that greet arrivals off the ferry. “Hopefully this will improve with time as well, because we really need to make this service work. So far we are very optimistic based on the numbers we have seen,” Dares said.
Tammy Nickerson, general manager at the Comfort Inn Yarmouth, says Nova Star is having a positive effect on their summer season so far and the numbers for July and August especially have been very encouraging.
“We did begin to see some increase in U.S. travellers almost immediately once the sailing season began in May and weekend traffic this summer has been much stronger,” she said.
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The room nights from the inn’s U.S. feeder markets are up significantly. The are also receiving bus tour inquiries for 2015.
Churchill Mansion Inn owner Paul Jesperson says the ferry has had a hugely positive impact on business this year compared to last year's occupancy numbers.
“That being said it is only year two for the revitalized Churchill Mansion,” he said.
In East Kemptville, Trout Point Lodge co-owner Charles Leary says they are seeing an almost 40 per cent increase in revenue year on year, May 1 to now. “However, we have seen substantial increases in overall revenue each year for the past six years at least. This increase also occurred with us having one less unit in commerce in 2014,” he added.
“We would certainly attribute some of this to the ferry. We are now (as of today) a recommended property on the Nova Star website, so we hope this will push reservations even more,” he said, adding that they have never had a year with so many wait list requests. They have had to turn quite a few potential guests away due to being full. Still, many people were able to adjust their itineraries to stay at the lodge.
The owners have also sent guests to other local businesses, including the Tusket Island Tours, June Deveau Gallery, Denise Comeau Gallery, local restaurants and others. The lodge’s European and trans-Canada business continues to grow at a healthy rate as well. Leary says they have also noted a larger number of guests flying private planes into Yarmouth this year (“good for the airport”), and still a large number of Americans flying to Halifax and driving down. The absence of rental cars on some days has been an issue.
“We are very pleased with Nova Star traffic in July and August and hope it will continue in the next two months,” said Leary.
“We still believe diversity in markets and marketing is extremely important to our overall business.”
When the Vanguard called Twyla Rogers at the Guest-Lovitt House B & B on Parade Street, she put a reservation on hold long enough to quickly tell our newsroom that the ferry is definitely making a difference.
“I’m very busy,” she said.
Co-innkeeper Neil Hisgen at the MacKinnon-Cann Inn on Willow Street said it is wonderful to see all of the marketing drawing people back to Nova Scotia.
“I would say 50 per cent of our reservations are made by those coming and going on the ferry,” he said.
Brian Rodney, at the Best Western Mermaid, said there’s been an improvement, especially in the past couple of weeks, and that July had been “moderately better.” He added that the influx was similar to the days of the Scotia Prince, which was traditionally slow building up.
“Business is back to the days when we had the connection,” he said.
In numbers the company released on Aug. 15, Nova Star Cruises said 13,043 passengers had travelled on the boat in July and in the first two weeks of August they had 17,255 board the boat.
Sanh Vo owns the El Rancho Motel. He has also seen an increase in the number of guests and is renting many more rooms.
“In the second and third year even more people will know. The boat is good for everyone,” he said.
Jonathan Joseph operates the five-room Ye Olde Argyler Lodge and restaurant. When contacted he said it’s the busiest summer they’ve had.
“June, we sold almost three times as many rooms this year as we did last year. We sold about 40 more rooms in July than we did last year,” he said. The business was only a week into August and was already over by about 30 rooms for all of August last year.
“We’ve seen at least two rooms a night that are getting on the ferry the next morning. To a small business like us, that’s anywhere from $300 to $800 extra a day. It makes a big difference,” he said.
Rodd Grand Hotel manager Robert Waite says reservations are increasing, with this past June better than the last five years and July noticeably picking up.
“It’s nice to see the Americans coming back, the licence plates in the driveway from Connecticut, New Jersey and elsewhere,” he said. “I think this year is just the start of it. Next year it’s going to be a real driving force in the community.”
It would appear, however, that Nova Star ferry passengers are not the camping type.
Belle Baie Park Campground in Clare has 157 sites. “We’ve had nothing at all. Hardly any Americans, maybe three or four groups,” said campground spokesperson Elvina Stuart.
“We knew that was the way it was going to be. They get off the ferry and drive up to Lunenburg and Halifax,” she said.
Deb Cameron at Camper’s Haven Campground in Arcadia estimates they have had a five per cent increase in stays.
“We were all hoping it would be so much more,” she said, adding everyone wants the service to succeed.
“Everyone I talk to that’s been on it, love it,” she said. She and her husband took the ferry in June and referred to the experience as a mini-vacation. She did criticize the cost of extras like beverages and sandwiches and said passengers should receive better information concerning the American-funds-only on-board policy.
A spokesperson for the Lakelawn B & B in Yarmouth says he has been full every night for the past two months.
“I would say seven rooms every night are being booked by ferry passengers,” he said. He added that comments about the ferry have been wonderful but that visitors say the word ferry is a misnomer.
“They are saying it should be called the Yarmouth Cruise,” he said.