Tourist sites see dramatic jump in visitors after government cuts
PC government credits private operators using social media to spread word
The New Brunswick government is pointing to double-digit increases in the number of visits to many of the province's premiere tourism sites this summer.
But critics and stakeholders are warning that the long-term effects of Progressive Conservative cuts to tourism marketing haven't been felt yet.
Tourism Minister Robert Gauvin revealed the numbers at Kings Landing near Fredericton, a popular site that saw an 18 per cent spike in visitors during the summer.
Overall, tourist sites reported an eight per cent increase from June to August.
Tourism operators promoted online
Gauvin told reporters the increases were due to tourism operators using social media to promote themselves and each other to New Brunswickers, not just out-of-province visitors.
"They are the key to success, the private sector," he said. "They have a younger approach. They're working together. They're sharing. … They cross-promote, and they keep people here longer, and that adds up at the end."
Some of the other increases Gauvin cited were: the New Brunswick Aquarium and Marine Centre in Shippagan, up 21 per cent, the New Brunswick Botanical Garden, up 17 per cent,the New Brunswick Museum, up 18 per cent, the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, up 11 per cent, Village historique acadien, up eight per cent, and Hopewell Rocks, up six per cent.
He did not provide a full list of sites or identify those that saw decreases or smaller increases.
Liberal MLA and tourism critic Jacques LeBlanc credited the previous government of premier Brian Gallant and its big increase in the tourism marketing budget.
"We're reaping the benefits," he said. "I believe the benefits we're reaping this year are the investments the previous government had put forward."
PCs cut tourism funding
The Liberals announced their tourism growth strategy and its $2 billion goal in 2017. They poured $12.6 million into capital spending on tourism in 2018-19, almost a 20 per cent increase, and $6 million to fund new marketing efforts.
But earlier this year the new PC government reversed much of the new spending, pruning overall tourism funding from $20.2 million last year to $12.8 million this year.
Dan Myers, former chair of the Tourism Industry Association of New Brunswick, said those cuts, which took effect April 1, would not have had an effect on 2019 tourism visits but will show up in years to come.
"You're never marketing for today, tomorrow or next week," he said. "Marketing's for the future, a year down the road, two years, five years down the road.
"I really don't think the cuts would have anything to do with this year. People would have had plans before those cuts came into place. It would take us a couple of years to see what those ramifications would be."
Final figure not available
The Tories say they remain committed to reaching the target set by the Liberals of $2 billion in visitor revenues by 2025, though Gauvin said "it may take a year or two more" than 2025.
From $1 billion in 2016, visitor revenues leapt to $1.3 billion in 2017, and the Conference Board of Canada forecast $1.5 billion for 2018.
There wasn't a final figure available Wednesday because of changes in how the data are calculated by Statistics Canada, the Conference Board said.
The PC cuts eliminated the printed visitor guide for tourists and closed visitor information centres at two entrances to the province, in Woodstock and Aulac.
Myers said eliminating the printed guide makes sense because of a large shift to online bookings in the industry.