Lots of Acadian colour.TINA COMEAU PHOTO
By Tina Comeau
The chair of the Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association says news that the Municipality of Clare is considering pulling out of YASTA is not good news.
In fact, YASTA chair John Cunningham says it is very problematic.
“Right now the shock of this, I’m having a hard time grappling with where do we go next,” Cunningham said in a Feb. 25 interview.
Clare municipal council has approved a notice of motion that would see it pull out of YASTA. The municipality says financially it is becoming too much for it to provide funding to both YASTA and it’s own tourism department.
The four municipal units that make up and provide funding to YASTA are Clare, the town of Yarmouth, the municipality of Yarmouth and the municipality of Argyle.
If one of the units were to pull out, Cunningham says this may require having YASTA seek more funding from the three remaining partners.
And given that funding from year-to-year is already an uncertain factor, having one less municipal unit contributing adds to the uncertainty.
“In the tourism industry you’re always planning at least a year ahead,” says Cunningham. “One of the big issues the YASTA board has had over the past few years is we’ve wanted confirmed funding over a three-to-five year period from the units.”
He says without this, YASTA never knows from year to year how much it will receive.
“The board can ask for the same funding next year but we’re always at the mercy of what the councils are ready to give,” he says.
Last year Cunningham says each unit was asked to contribute an equal amount. In the end the town and municipality of Yarmouth each contributed $60,000, the Municipality of Argyle gave $45,000 and the Municipality of Clare gave $40,000.
“There were signs that Clare may be pulling back,” he says. “It wasn’t an equal funding partnership.”
Ronnie LeBlanc, the warden for the Municipality of Clare, says in addition to the money the municipality provided to YASTA, last year it also provided funding of around $158,000 to its own municipal tourism department.
He says pulling out a YASTA is something the municipality has been discussing for years, but it’s not an easy decision. Meanwhile, the Clare council has tabled another motion until its March meeting to consider whether it would still provide an operating grant of $25,000, for three years, even if it pulls out.
As for what the other remaining municipal units would think about that funding arrangement remains to be seen.
Cunningham, meanwhile, says YASTA will now have to hold off a little while longer on the hiring of a general manager, which is a position it had advertised for and conducted interviews for.
The situation with Clare, he says, “leaves a lot of questions up in the air” as far as future funding for YASTA is concerned.
“It’s quite a mess,” says Cunningham.
He adds that YASTA has also been seeking to receive regional tourism association status.
Asked if the association would still market a region that isn’t participating within YASTA, Cunnigham says really you have to.
“I still believe in the regional approach,” he says. “I think the four municipal units has been a good size.”
He adds that with a new ferry service on the horizon, marketing of the region takes on heightened importance.
Part of the marketing efforts of YASTA includes hitting up consumer travel trade shows.
YASTA reps recently attended a trade show in Boston that saw around 24,000 travel consumers attend over a three-day period. Industry reps also attended before the show was opened up to the public. YASTA was there as a representative of the province, along with representatives from the province, the Atlantica Hotel, Nova Star Cruises, Bay Ferries, Golf NS, Taste of Nova Scotia, Parks Canada and Atlantic Tours.
“I personally gave out approximately 1,000 YASTA regional visitor guides and probably had over 500 individual conversations with travelers who wanted itinerary information for our region,” says Neil MacKenzie, a tourism development officer with YASTA.
The next show on tap is the AAA show in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
“It is also a very large consumer travel show and is expected to have the same numbers of potential travellers,” says MacKenzie. “The eastern states was the biggest market loss when we lost the Cat and Scotia Prince. It represents the biggest opportunity of our region and Nova Scotia. That’s why the province is there and that’s why YASTA is there too.”
Another huge target area for YASTA and the province is the Ontario and Quebec markets.
Cunningham, meanwhile, says they’ll have to figure out the fall-out should Clare pull out of YASTA.
“At least right now it’s only a notice of motion,” he says.
Still, he says, the situation is very concerning.