Nova Scotia

From 'too much hype' to 'earthly paradise': tourists react to Nova Scotia

A question on the province's tourist exit survey elicits complaints about the weather, roads and prices — and lobster served with margarine.

Tourist exit survey elicits complaints about the weather, roads and prices — and lobster served with margarine

Even the Cabot Trail came in for some criticism in comments provided to Tourism Nova Scotia in an online survey. (Destination Cape Breton)

Bad weather. High prices. Poor roads. And … not enough sand on the beaches?

These are some of the gripes tourists had about Canada's Ocean Playground this year.

Local residents can probably empathize with some of the feedback, like the difficulty finding parking in downtown Halifax, accessibility issues and the desire for ride-hailing companies.

But other comments provided to the provincial Tourism Department are downright head-scratchers.

"I was disappointed with the Cabot Trail," one visitor noted. "I believed that I would see more natural beauty than I did."

"More loose moose," was one tourist's suggestion.

"Airbnb not in someone's garage," said another.

The town of Windsor, N.S., looking picturesque amidst snow flurries in 2017. (Robert Short/CBC)

Tourism Nova Scotia collects feedback from visitors through an online exit survey, at visitor information centres, through social media and sites such as Trip Advisor and Expedia.

Through freedom-of-information laws, the CBC received all the responses to one question on the online survey: If you could identify one thing that would have improved your visit experience while in Nova Scotia, what would it be?

About one-third of the nearly 3,500 tourists who filled out the survey did not answer this question, but of those who did, many said that nothing could have improved their trip because it was already "perfect."

An analysis by Tourism Nova Scotia of the 2017 exit survey found the most common responses to the question were a wish for better weather, more time to spend in the province and better road conditions.

One of the main complaints tourists have about Nova Scotia is road conditions, including potholes, signage, tolls and the lack of rest stops. (Robert Short/CBC)

Highways and roads figured prominently in the complaints from this year's visitors, with tourists grumbling about potholes, poor signage, tolls and the lack of rest stops. A handful of visitors mentioned damage to their vehicles caused by road conditions, and one person complained about all the "useless wrong way signs."

Tourists lamented the cost of nearly everything, including accommodations, taxis, gas, parking, car rentals, alcohol and taxes.

Food was also a common topic, with some complaining they couldn't find any lobster — or, if they did, they suffered the travesty of being served margarine instead of butter.

One respondent said they were "honestly disappointed" there weren't fish and chip shops on every corner and another protested the lack of ketchup in a restaurant. "Fries are not the same without ketchup," groused the respondent.

Bathrooms generated a number of comments, including the need for more public washrooms and the cleanliness of the province's loos: "Bathrooms in restaurants. They never get enough attention," wrote one visitor, while another simply stated: "Fans in the bathrooms."

While many praised the province's tourist attractions, such as Peggys Cove, some detractors said the popular destination had "too much hype," was too crowded and needed better parking. One innovative thinker suggested a ferry between Peggys Cove and Lunenburg.

Peggys Cove is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Nova Scotia, but some visitors complained it was too crowded and needed better parking. (Tourism Nova Scotia/Matt Long/Landlopers)

Oak Island drew the scorn of one visitor, who said there should be a warning about the "absolute conspiracy theory/tourist trap," while another called for more tourist attractions on the island.

Some grievances got a bit personal: "If my grandfather wasn't so mean," wrote one visitor. "Leave some of my family at home LOL," wrote another.

Although dozens praised the geniality of Nova Scotians, at least one tourist must have encountered a grumpy local, taking down a Maritime stereotype with these four words: "People are not friendly."

Visitor satisfaction high

Despite suggestions for improvements, visitors are overwhelmingly satisfied with their experiences in the province, and indeed, even the question aimed at soliciting criticism drew some strong praise.

"It is the Eden or that earthly paradise that we have all sought to live in," wrote one person.

"It's a wonderful daily dose of serenity," wrote another.

The 2017 exit survey showed that 21 per cent of visitors found their trip was well above expectations, 34 per cent said it was above expectations and 43 per cent said it was as expected.

Anna Moran, the director of policy and research for Nova Scotia, said the province's "authentic, real advertising" is part of the reason those ratings are so high.

Tourism Nova Scotia's director of policy and research says 'authentic, real advertising' of what Nova Scotia has to offer means most visitors' expectations are met. (Robert Short/CBC)

"We tell them they are going to have an amazing visit because of our fantastic beautiful ocean landscapes, amazing outdoor activities that we have, the fantastic seafood and lobsters and the amazing wineries, the whale watching, the golfing, the trails, the ability to do so many things close to the ocean," said Moran.

"When visitors come here they get exactly what we tell them they're going to get."

Moran said the department does pass along the suggestions for improvement to relevant parties when it can.

The next exit survey will be released next year.


Frances Willick is a journalist with CBC Nova Scotia. Please contact her with feedback, story ideas or tips at


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