© TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Visitor information centre in Yarmouth.
PROVINCIAL – Visitors to Nova Scotia will still be able to visit provincial visitor information centres during their travels.
The provincial government confirmed on Thursday, Feb. 25, that Nova Scotia’s six provincial visitor information centres (VICs) will stay open and will continue to be operated and administered by the province.
For weeks there had been speculation the province would close the VICs given that there had been no public announcement pertaining to their start dates and workers had not been notified either, their union noted.
There are six provincial centres in the province: Yarmouth, Amherst, Halifax Airport, Halifax Waterfront, Peggy’s Cove and Port Hastings. Last year the province closed the provincial centres in Digby and Pictou.
The lack of word on the status of the VICs was causing a lot of anxiety within the tourism sector, however the province says it needed to take the time to make the right decision about their futures.
"These centres are important provincial assets that add value to the tourism experience in Nova Scotia and to the communities where they operate," said Business Minister Mark Furey in a media release. "As technology advances tourism is changing rapidly, and we need to keep up with the pace of change. That's why we took the time to make an informed decision about the role the centres will play in growing this industry."
The province says that over the past year, Tourism Nova Scotia has consulted with industry and communities about its programs and services, including other ways to operate provincial visitor information centres.
With more travelers getting information online, activity at the centres as a whole has decreased over the last decade, the province says.
But the centres still continue to play a role in tourism given the face-to-face interactions that take place at them and the increased business that generates for the province, particularly at the centres located at the province’s entry points.
“The entry points are very important and they provide one of the best opportunities we have to influence sales as soon as people arrive in the province,” TIANS president Darlene Grant Fiander said recently.
At the VIC in Yarmouth the last two summers, staff counseled 10,700 people in 2014 and 13,000 people in 2015, according to numbers supplied by Tourism Nova Scotia.
Calvin d’Entremont, owner and operator of A Day by the Sea Tours in Yarmouth County, said earlier this week that closing the provincial centres would have been a misguided plan.
“My tour business relies on bookings from the Yarmouth VIC," he said. "Closing it lacks any common sense."
Tourism Nova Scotia has also acknowledged the importance of frontline visitor information services, particularly as it strives to meet the goal of doubling tourism revenues to $4 billion by 2024.
Tourism Nova Scotia says it will also continue to offer travel planning assistance 24 hours a day on novascotia.com and 365 days a year through the Tourism Contact Centre.
The province says in addition to the provincial visitor information centres there are more than 50 locally-run tourism centres located across the province.
Earlier this week the PC Caucus noted that in the provincial Doers and Dreamers tourism guide the location of the provincial visitor information centres – indicated on the map by question marks – are not included on the provincial map in the 2016 guide. Instead the locations of both provincial and local centres are noted on regional maps within the guide. Minister Furey was asked following a cabinet meeting on Thursday if he was concerned that the absence of the locations on that provincial map will decrease visitation to the VICs.
Furey said he isn't worried about decreased visitation because of that, but he also said, "If I had the ability to put those question marks on the map I certainly would."
MINISTER TAKES EXCEPTION
At the conclusion of Thursday's cabinet scrum Furey scolded opposition members for their behaviour during the time he says the government needed to take to gather the information to make a decision about the VICs.
“I'm disappointed with some of my colleagues in the legislature and their position that, quite frankly, has been political – the MLA for Argyle-Barrington, the MLA for Pictou East, the leader of the official opposition, have compromised the wellness of our government services employees with rhetoric and fear and to me that’s quite unacceptable," the minister said. "It's one thing to have respectful differences between government and opposition but it’s another thing to use the circumstances as they have and to create anxiety amongst public servants who are seasonal and in some cases part-time."
When asked by reporters if it wasn't the government's decision to review the centres that was causing the anxiety, Furey said the province never said the VICs were closing, but rather discussions were taking place around the "transition" of VICs.
"We have a responsibility to explore options, we did that," he said, saying they never said the centres were going to close.
In response to the minister's criticism, Argyle-Barrington MLA Chris d'Entremont said he was not fearmongering, as the minister implies. He said he had a responsibility to push the government to make a decision and erase the public uncertainty that existed.
“I was standing up for my community and the business owners that rely on the services and the people that work there," d'Entremont said. "Absolutely it wasn’t fearmongering. If anyone was creating fear amongst people it was the government by not making a decision.”