Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia tourism operators seeing mostly local visitors

Tourism operators in Nova Scotia say while they're starting to see more licence plates from outside the Atlantic provinces, the bulk of visitors are still local residents.

Nova Scotians are staying longer and booking more experiences

Brian Hebert (left) takes a group on a tour of the Bay of Fundy near Parrsboro, N.S. (Tourism Nova Scotia)

Tourism operators in Nova Scotia say while they're starting to see more licence plates from outside the Atlantic provinces, the bulk of visitors are still local residents.

The provincial tourism income estimates for 2020 were expected to be under $900 million. That's $1.7 billion less than in 2019, a deficit that was mostly due to non-residents being unable to travel to Nova Scotia.

For most of this year, tourism operators have had to rely more on residents travelling around their home province.

And they say Nova Scotians are staying longer and booking more experiences.

Wine country

Grape Escapes Nova Scotia Wine Tours, which takes people to wineries in the Annapolis Valley, said they have been welcoming mostly locals this summer. 

But owner and tour director Susan Downey Lim said that's starting to change. 

"It's heavy Atlantic Canadian, but we're seeing a huge influx of Ontario guests, Quebec and it's starting to be western Canada and B.C. as well now, too," said Lim. "And a little bit from the U.S."

Due to the changing pandemic restrictions, many people from outside of the province had to reschedule spring visits to late summer, she said.  

But Lim said people have been rebooking tours. Their daily wine and lunch escapes have proven especially popular.

One place her guides recommend is Avondale Sky Winery in Newport, N.S.

The century-old church was ferried down the Minas Basin in 2011. (Paul Palmeter/CBC)

The winery itself is inside an old church that was floated across the Minas Basin. Lim said the location is picturesque.

"It's a little off the beaten path, so we don't visit them as often as we'd like," she said.

'Hidden experiences'

Alicia Simms started a social media page promoting tourism in the Truro area, which eventually grew into Secret Nova Scotia Tours, a company that specializes in the province's "hidden experiences."

In March, people from across the province wanted to book tours, but were reluctant to pay to reserve spots, given the uncertainty of the pandemic. 

"We had hoped to start in May, and of course, we were shut down," she said. 

Since June, they've been doing well with bookings — people especially want to go mud sliding in Maitland, N.S., she said. 

"It's an incredible experience where you get to watch adults be kids," she said.

Simms hopes her booking numbers stay high and they can continue tours into the fall.

Nova Scotian families make up the bulk the mud sliding tour bookings. (Secret Nova Scotia Tours)

Brian Hebert offers fossil and gemstone tours at Fundy Treasures in Parrsboro, N.S. He's been giving tours along the Bay of Fundy for 30 years and helped get the Joggins Fossil Cliffs designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

He was also hoping for a busy month of May, but then everything shut down. Cancelled spring visits are now happening in late summer. 

"It's been a lot of people from Ontario, and a few people from New Brunswick as well," he said. 

He now also offers virtual tours. They've done it in the past, but it's become more popular with the pandemic, so they are expanding it next year.

Hebert said even locals are finding new parts of their own backyards to explore. He's happy to show them the literal hidden gems in his part of the province. 

This gemstone was found along the Bay of Fundy. (Fundy Treasures)

Longer stays, higher rates

Bed and breakfasts across Nova Scotia have seen varying visitor numbers. For those in the Cape Breton area, this year has been hard.

Accommodations on the mainland, like Coopers Inn in Shelburne, N.S., also had a hard start to their season.

David Chute, who co-owns the inn with his wife Pat, said they've seen about half the number of visitors as they normally do, especially during July.

But the Nova Scotians that are coming are staying for longer, said Chute, exploring the South Shore's hidden gems.

Many tourists come for the white sand beaches all over Shelburne County, but Chute said more bird watchers have started coming the area each year to visit a nearby bird scantuary.