Nova Scotia not surveying Yarmouth ferry riders about visits
Government plans post-season evaluation with tourism operators, industry members
As the province spends millions of dollars to support ferry service between Yarmouth and Maine, no one from government is surveying people as they get on or off the ship about the amount of time or money they're spending in Nova Scotia.
Anna Moran, the manager of research and planning for Tourism Nova Scotia, said the Crown corporation does an ongoing numeration for out-of-province visitors each month. In the case of Yarmouth, they get passenger information by origin from the ferry operator, Bay Ferries.
For a more detailed survey, including where tourists are going, how long they're here and how much they're spending, Tourism Nova Scotia does a visitor exit survey. But they don't do them every year and they aren't doing one this year.
A large and costly process
Moran said the most recent survey was for May 2015 to May 2016 and those results will be ready sometime in the fall.
She said such surveys are large and costly, estimating the price tag to be somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000. By comparison, this year's costs for the province toward the ferry will top $23 million.
In years when an exit survey doesn't happen, the most recent spending information is used and adjusted for inflation to develop an estimate.
"When you look at how people move around the province and where they go, those are not things that tend to change dramatically year over year," said Moran.
"So I am very comfortable taking the travelling-around-the-province information that we got from the 2015 visitor exit survey and applying that to people who might be coming into the province in 2016 through that Yarmouth entry point."
Transportation Minister Geoff MacLellan said it wasn't the government's decision not to do a survey of riders on The Cat, which sails daily from Yarmouth to Portland, Maine, and back.
The government plans to do a thorough evaluation of the impacts on the Yarmouth area as well as the province at large when the season wraps up at the end of September, said MacLellan.
"We're going to look at — obviously talk to stakeholders, talk to Tourism Nova Scotia, talk to the operators to see what really meaningful data we can glean. If that means an economic assessment, then that's what we'll do. There's no reason why we would rule that out."
Numbers improving, but well off target
Recent numbers released by Bay Ferries show the daily average for vehicles and passengers continues to go up each week since the service started in June, but to date the numbers are well short of what is required to reach the government's stated goal of 60,000 passengers.
Reflecting on the progress so far, MacLellan said he doesn't regret setting the goal at 60,000; the government needed a number on which to base the cost structure of the contract and that figure was based on ridership from the previous two seasons when Nova Star Cruises operated the route, he said. That company carried about 59,000 people in its first season and about 51,000 the second.
"We made no effort or attempt whatsoever to lowball it," said MacLellan. "We thought that would be a reasonable number and that's why we went with it."
No requests for additional funds so far
Passenger count is only part of the equation toward the bottom line for the service because there are revenue streams on board and there are other factors, such as the cost of fuel, that can influence the operator's expenses, said MacLellan.
The 10-year contract signed this year with Bay Ferries includes more than $23 million for this season, $13 million of which went toward startup costs. While the season will have to be complete before the full financial impact is known, MacLellan said so far there's no indication Bay Ferries will seek additional money for this season.