Nova Scotia visitor information centres safe from closure this year

The minister responsible for tourism in Nova Scotia says the province's six visitor information centre are like "baby seals." "People are very protective of them," said Geoff MacLellan.

'People are very protective of them': Tourism Minister Geoff MacLellan describes centres as 'baby seals'

The visitor information centre in Port Hastings, N.S., is open seasonally. (Google Streetview)

The six visitor information centres around Nova Scotia will open this season as usual, the minister responsible for tourism said Thursday.

There's been concern about the future of the centres as visitor numbers have dropped in recent years and the government explores new funding models for them.

Tourism Minister Geoff MacLellan said the provincial government will fund the centres this year.

MacLellan was asked in the legislature this week about a comment he made at a tourism conference in November where he described the centres as "baby seals."

"People are very protective of them," he said. "They feel that they have a very significant value in the communities which they serve — and obviously collectively they serve the province — so we're not doing anything with them."

Inverness Progressive Conservative MLA Allan MacMaster said he interpreted MacLellan's "baby seal" comment to mean that the centres are a problem that no one wants to deal with.

MacLellan told Information Morning Cape Breton on Thursday that he was "freestyling" when he made the remark, and meant the centres elicit strong emotions in the communities where they're located.

Change in focus

The government agency that once funded the visitor information centres, Tourism Nova Scotia, became a Crown corporation in 2015.

Now private sector-led, its mandate has changed from being an operational body to one focused largely on marketing and product development, MacLellan said.
Allan MacMaster is the MLA for Inverness. (Nic Meloney/CBC)

"They sort of felt that, 'Look, it doesn't really fit in with us, so we would like to utilize those dollars in other areas and sort of put it toward the marketing and promotional aspects of the tourism industry,'" the minister said.

"That's really what caused the concern and really created the discussion around what the future was [for the centres]."

MacLellan said any change to their mandate will be slow in coming as decisions are made about whether to adopt a model that's funded by both government and the private sector.

Visits dropping

MacMaster's riding is home to a seasonal visitor information centre in Port Hastings, at the Canso Causeway.

"Every time I drive by, it's packed, which tells me the customers, the visitors that are coming here, want the service and there've been rumblings through the industry that the government may change the model," MacMaster said. "It raises concern."
Geoff MacLellan is the minister responsible for Nova Scotia tourism. (CBC)

The Cape Breton location may be busy, but MacLellan said overall visits to the six centres dropped last year to 324,000 from 425,000 in 2012.

"There's a shift to the internet now and there's different ways of accessing the critical information for tourists," he said.

Consultation needed

MacMaster is concerned about changes being made without local consultation.

"I'm open to ideas," he said, "but the problem with a lot of these things is they're not discussed, and all of a sudden, there's a change, and people are left out of the equation and sometimes people are left unhappy.

"At the end of the day, what matters most is what visitors are looking for. It's hard to argue with the numbers of people that are dropping into the visitors centre at the causeway."

In addition to the centre in Port Hastings, seasonal centres operate in Peggys Cove and Yarmouth.

There are year-round centres at the Halifax waterfront, the Halifax Stanfield International Airport and in Amherst, on the border with New Brunswick.

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton