Nova Scotia

A hitch in Cape Breton's tourism boom — finding a place for workers to live

Victoria County is working to create a "billeting database" in an effort to find local accommodations for seasonal tourism workers. Homeowners that once rented to workers are now housing visitors instead.

'Billeting database' will match Victoria County homeowners with rooms to spare for summer workers

The Wreck Cove General Store is having trouble finding housing for its seasonal employees. (Trevor Ferneyhough)

An increase in tourism has become a double-edge sword for Cape Breton's Victoria County.

While more tourists filling beds is good for the local economy, it has also created a shortage of accommodations for the workers that local businesses count on to cater to those same tourists through the summer months.

"It's been a big challenge finding seasonal workers," said Brent Partland, owner of the Wreck Cove General Store on Cape Breton's north shore.

"There's not a lot of people that live along our shoreline. Most of the people that do live there already are employed either in the fishing or tourism industry."

Partland recently had his two longest-serving employees retire. He has since found four people willing to come from outside the area to work at the store.

"Now our big issue is, where are we housing the employees once they come to work for us?"

The view from the top of the Franey Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. (novascotia.com)

Last year, Cape Breton experienced its best spring and summer tourism seasons on record in terms of room sales, according to Destination Cape Breton, lifted by factors like the so-called Trump Bump, Canada 150 and the strong American dollar.

But part of the problem is that as tourism has grown some of the people who used to house seasonal employees are now looking to cash in on the boom.

"With the advent of the Airbnb, everybody's learned that they can make a fair buck on tourism by renting out their space," said Partland.

He's bought a camper trailer to house at least one family on his property, noting commuting is not an option for most workers.

"Commuting from our area is a long distance. So basically their paycheck goes in their gas tank. So we're going to have to figure something out."

Several other businesses — particularly in Baddeck and the Ingonish area — are in the same boat, said Patrick Austin, economic development officer for the Cape Breton Regional Enterprise Network in Victoria County.

Matching workers with free rooms

Austin is working on a short-term fix. The idea is to match up seasonal workers with residents who have rooms to spare through a "billeting database." 
Patrick Austin is economic development officer for the Cape Breton Regional Enterprise Network in Victoria County. (Cape Breton Partnership)

"There's a lot of people out there that don't realize there's an additional source of income they could take in," Austin told CBC's Information Morning Cape Breton. "A lot of elderly people, or people that have larger homes that have rooms perhaps available in them that they could rent out."

The county is in the process of gathering names of potential billeters, and of businesses looking for accommodations for their workers.

An attempt will be made to find a good match between homeowner and billet, said Austin.

"There could be the possibility of an exchange of services, if it is somebody that's older and they need help around their property," he said. "But the idea would be they would charge so it would mutually benefit everybody."

About the Author

Holly Conners is a reporter and current affairs producer who has been with CBC Cape Breton since 1998. Contact her at holly.conners@cbc.ca.

With files from Information Morning Cape Breton

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