Nova Star ferry given credit for bump in hotel revenue

The Nova Star ferry may have eaten through money last year, but it was also partly responsible for an $11 million bump in hotel revenue, according to a provincial report.

Nova Star Cruises carried 59,000 passengers throughout the season

Nova Scotia welcomed 19 per cent more New England visitors from January to October last year. (STM Quest)

The Nova Star ferry may have eaten through money last year, but it was also partly responsible for an $11 million bump in hotel revenue, according to a provincial report.

Nova Scotia welcomed 19 per cent more New England visitors from January to October compared to the same period in 2013, the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency said in the report, released Thursday.

The Yarmouth and Acadian shores saw a 17 per cent increase in hotel room bookings, while the South Shore, Annapolis Valley, Bay of Fundy and Halifax areas saw a four per cent increase.

The tourism agency had reason to think those numbers were spurred by ferry travellers, especially after surveying 393 ferry tourists in mid-August.

About half said they wouldn’t have visited without the ferry, according to agency spokeswoman Sarah Levy MacLeod.

Nearly half said they were seeing Nova Scotia for the first time, two-thirds of whom added that the ferry was crucial to their decision.

The northern regions didn't fare as well, with Cape Breton and the Eastern Shore hovering around their 2013 numbers and a four per cent drop in the Northumberland region.

Survey not scientific

There was likely much more to the increase than the ferry. The province also saw seven per cent more air passengers than in 2013, and 10 per cent more visitors from overseas.

Nova Star Cruises carried 59,000 passengers throughout the season, according to numbers the province released in the fall. Even if all of those were visitors and not Nova Scotians, they would make up just three per cent of all 1.8 million visitors in 2014.

The ferry survey wasn't meant to be scientific, said MacLeod.

"We cannot generalize about a survey of this size," she wrote in an email. "The survey was meant give us a sense of the ferry's impact on motivating first-time visits to Nova Scotia."

The Nova Star used up a $21 million provincial fund intended to last seven years within the first months of its inaugural season. Since then, the province has put up another $7.5 million, including $2.5 million to berth the ferry in South Carolina for the winter.

People in Yarmouth stand ready to greet the Nova Star. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

Numbers of visitors aren’t always the best indicator of spending, said the agency. It is focusing on attracting "higher-yield" tourists who stay longer and spend more.

Tourists in 2014 did stay longer, the statistics show. The number of visits was the same in 2014 as in 2013, but hotel bookings went up by five per cent during peak season. It was the biggest year-over-year jump in hotel bookings since 2002, according to the report.

The jump in New England visitors also shows the tourism strategy is working and has "solid momentum," said economic and rural development minister Michel Samson. 

The year's bookings through October translated into $266 million in revenues, four per cent or $11 million more than 2013.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the Nova Star carried 45,000 passengers throughout the season. In fact, the province had released more recent data, changing that number to 59,000.
    Jan 30, 2015 5:05 PM AT

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