Chinese families and LGBT travellers could be the next big markets for Cape Breton tourism, says the island's tourism industry association.
Destination Cape Breton presented its latest strategic plan at Cape Breton Regional Council on Tuesday night.
"China is the big buzzword on the Canadian tourism front," said Destination Cape Breton CEO Mary Tulle.
The tourism association recently brought a Chinese tourism specialist to the island to judge its potential.
Turns out, Cape Breton has a number of assets for attracting Chinese visitors, Tulle said, including Cape Breton University and a Chinese student population.
"We agreed that a great strategy for us is to really capitalize on bringing students, high school students with their families, for two- and three-week periods," Tulle said.
"We consider this a great niche to be able to then encourage our students to do their post-secondary [education] here at CBU, and then to potentially set up a business as well."
Heine Cheng from China has done just that. He recently bought Bannockburn Tours in Baddeck.
The company takes visitors and cruise ship passengers to sites around the island. Cheng has added a new component to the business — offering weekend trips to Halifax for Chinese university students.
Cheng says most Chinese will choose to visit Canada's large cities first, but on subsequent visits, they would like "something unique or something different."
"I may say, 'OK, on the East Coast, there is a very nice island named Cape Breton and they have world famous Cabot Trail and a lot of golf course. I would be interesting (sic) to do the tour there.'
"Our costume here and our culture and our national sites — it's completely different from the view they had before," he said. "So I would say they do have the potential if we can do more advertising."
'We want to be ready'
Destination Cape Breton is also exploring the LGBT market and plans to develop a LGBT strategy, said Tulle.
The agency is working with Travel Gay Canada and has asked Hollywood actor, comedian and LGBT activist Jason Stuart to assess the island. Tulle says Stuart will come to Sydney for Pride Week 2018.
To prepare for the LGBT market, Tulle said she would like tourism operators to take sensitivity training.
"We could say as Cape Breton Island, we believe in welcoming everyone and in doing so, we want to be ready. We want to know what they are looking for and what they need."
Tulle said Cape Breton's tourism numbers "from a growth perspective, are leading the country."
In 2016, room sales grew by 16 per cent. This year, by the end of July, room sales had increased by another 10 per cent.
"That, of course, has great ripple effects to attractions and gift shops and dining establishments and everything else," Tulle said.