Tourism operators in Newfoundland and Labrador expect a busy summer, despite a declining economy at home, thanks to bargain-hunting Americans and visitors looking for "an authentic experience."

"They're getting a bigger bang for their buck," said Joe O'Brien, who operates a boat, restaurant and tour service out of Bay Bulls.

O'Brien and other tourism operators gathered Wednesday for Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador's annual conference and trade show in St. John's.

"Southern Ontario has always been our big client but now we're finding that New England states, Boston, all that area, are starting to take advantage of the great exchange on the dollar," he said.

Dion Finaly

Dion Finlay, vice-chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, says the tourism industry in this province is worth $1.1 Billion a year. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The industry is worth $1.1 Billion a year to the provincial economy and creates nearly 10 per cent of the jobs, according to Hospitality NL.

"This year with the economic conditions, with the economy down, we're more important than ever," said vice-chair Dion Finlay.

"We should be at capacity this year in what we have to deliver, so we need to develop more product," he said.

'They want to know how we live'

In Twillingate, the Anchor Inn and Suites had its busiest year ever in 2015.

Advanced bookings show another good year ahead, with increased bookings from American tourists and Canadians choosing to stay north of the border.

"This is not just small mom and pop shops, scraping a few dollars together. There's a real industry here," said co-owner Deborah Bourden.

She said when tourists come to a place like Twillingate, they're looking for an authentic experience. 

"They want to know about the food we eat. They want to know how we grew up," she said.

"They want to know where we live, how we live. They want to see the stages, the stores and walk on the flakes, and actually touch the cod."

Deborah bourden

Deborah Bourden operates the Anchor Inn in Twillingate. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Bourden said the industry appears to be buffered from the slumping provincial economy, but costs and taxes are going up and people are looking for deals.

Finlay says it's important for tourist operators to know what visitors want.

"It's culture, it's music, it's entertainment, it's food," he said. "That's Newfoundland. You eat, drink, have music. We're rich in that regard."

double whale breach Bay Bulls

A double whale breach off Bay Bulls in 2014 resulted in a lineup for tour boat operators on the southern shore. (Submitted by Kurt Sullivan)

Finlay said the industry does face challenges, such as rising costs for food and imported supplies. Finding staff could also become a problem.

"We see operators that are baby boomers that are looking to retire, so who's going to take over those properties, those adventure tourism projects? We need a successor plan in place," said Finlay.