Supporters of the Digby-Saint John ferry want to make sure it is taken into account in any new regional tourism strategy.
The provincial department of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism announced last week it will appoint a team to enhance tourism in southwestern Nova Scotia as part of its plan to support a Yarmouth ferry.
Norm Lockyer, vice chair of the Bay of Fundy Marine Transportation Association said this week he agrees with the importance of enhancing tourism.
“But any enhancements should take into account both ferry gateways to the region and their different dynamics,” he said.
Percy Paris, the minister of Economic and Rural Development and Tourism would not say this week what area he meant by southwestern Nova Scotia; specifically if his plans for the tourism team included representatives from the Digby area or input from supporters of the Digby ferry service.
“We’re working now on creating the team, and putting together its mandate and who will sit on the team,” he wrote to the Courier on Wednesday, March 13. “The goal is to get the right people around the table to maximize the tourism opportunities in southwestern Nova Scotia. We’ll have more details to share in the coming weeks.”
A spokesperson for the department said they are gathering information and figuring out who they want on the team. She couldn’t give any details about how or what information they are gathering or how Nova Scotians could provide input on the team’s formation.
Lockyer says the BFMTA sees no conflict between a Yarmouth ferry and a Digby ferry but he just doesn’t want to see the contribution of Digby as a tourism gateway overlooked.
While the Yarmouth boat primarily brought American visitors, the Digby boat serves as an important link for visitors from central Canada.
Lockyer says the commercial importance of the Digby ferry to the fishery, mink industry, foresty and aquaculture is well recognized.
The BFMTA however has been working with Bay Ferries to make the schedule more attractive to visitors.
Last year they lobbied for, and Bay Ferries agreed to, a two-week extension to the summer timetable to facilitate more shoulder season tourism.
While the province is working with the region on the Yarmouth ferry issue, Lockyer wants to remind them the Digby ferry situation will also need some attention soon.
“Just a friendly P.S.,” says Lockyer. “A friendly reminder that funding for the Digby service is starting to run out.”
Current provincial and federal funding commitments for the Digby—Saint John service are due to expire in March 2014 and Lockyer says the uncertainty that comes with that hurts business.
“It’s a short window,” he says. “Trucking companies thinking about investing in new trucks, tour bus operators, they need more lead-time. The uncertainty at three years is a problem. At one year, it’s three times worse.”
Lockyer says he is encouraged by the recent renovations and improvements at the Digby and Saint John ferry terminals.
“That’s the point,” he says. “The investment by Transport Canada is a good sign but hopefully it’s not just money blowing in the wind.
“We need all and sundry to worry about the next step – the next announcement for this service.”