Marketing plans poised to refocus on American markets
By Belle Hatfield
The president of Rodd Hotels and Resorts says before the ink is dry on the agreement now being negotiated between STM Quest and the province of Nova Scotia, his company will be ramping up marketing efforts to re-capture tourists lost when the ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine was cut in 2010.
“This is just great news for our company,” said Mark Rodd in responding to Tuesday’s announcement that the province was poised to sign an operating agreement to restart a cruise ferry service between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth. He is encouraged by what he’s hearing, especially the proposed sailing schedule.
“A favourable crossing schedule hugely impacts Yarmouth, he said, adding that the schedule that proposes a 9 a.m. sailing out of Yarmouth is very good news.
“That is a schedule that we very much look forward to having. It worked very well for us with the Scotia Prince. Knowing that is going to be in place is crucial to our plan,” he said.
The province anticipates having an agreement within three weeks.
“We’re hoping that it all comes together as we’ve hoped for quite some time,” he said.
If a ferry service is re-established and can deliver tourists, he said the company’s Yarmouth hotel would be “in hiring mode” again, for the first time in a long time.
Yarmouth’s accommodations sector was decimated by the ferry service closure. The number of hotel rooms in town is less than half what was available during the boom years. Some properties have repositioned themselves as rental units. In the wake of the loss of the ferry, the Rodd company closed its Colony property, both the Forest Street hotel and restaurant.
Even if the ferry sails up the harbour next May, don’t expect to see the Colony re-opened and ready to serve tourists.
The Rodd resorts president said when the ferry service resumes, the company’s first priority will be to build back business at its signature property on Main Street.
“It is too early to talk about the Colony. It would take a fair bit of investment to get that to a level where it can re-open. The Grand would be our focal point and seeing how that property does will gauge what we’re going to do with the other property,” he said.
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Rodd said loss of the ferry has reverberated throughout the tourism industry in Atlantic Canada.
“The biggest impact happened in Yarmouth, but as you filter out of Yarmouth to the other areas of Atlantic Canada, they all were affected. And I’m not just speaking for Rodd properties,” he said.
For the Rodd chain, the ferry was a gateway that allowed them to develop packages for with tour operators from the northeastern seaboard. Yarmouth was either the entry or the exit (sometimes both) for extensive packages.
“When that service was stopped a lot of tour companies reconsidered whether to make Nova Scotia that tour destination. A lot of the times, they decided to look at another destination,” he said.
Mike Robertson, the company’s marketing director, said, “We really had to refocus where we were spending our marketing dollars. Going into Portland or the northeastern US just really didn’t make any sense. So we really focused more on eastern Canada and the Maritimes and corporate travel.”
Robertson said timing is critical in planning for next year. If a deal is cemented by September and there is a firm commitment to operate in 2014, he said, the company “will want to sit down with the provider immediately and work on getting these packages available and doing some cross-promotion to get these tourists back.
Rodd acknowledges that a lot of rebuilding is required and it will take time.
“It’s been a struggle for all of us and as this ferry comes back, we will be rebuilding product – all of us will be, year by year,” he said, adding, “As a company we have stood beside the Yarmouth community and we are pleased with this announcement, but we are very much looking forward to the realized commitment from government and the provider.”