The tourism industry is taking a beating with the COVID-19 pandemic, said Cindy MacKinnon, managing director for Destination Eastern and Northumberland Shores.
With events both large and smaller being cancelled across the region, she said she expects it will be a “tough summer.”
MacKinnon gave a presentation on tourism in 2019 to Stellarton Council recently. Due to the nature of COVID-19, the meeting was held via video conference.
Touching on DEANS’ marketing initiatives for 2019, MacKinnon explained that the regional passports that were created last year were made smaller, passport sized, and there were stamps inside where people could stamp the places they visited and then send them off to DEANS for prizes. The two winners were from Australia and British Columbia. “We sent them a nice local package that they could enjoy, and of course come back to visit at any point.”
The visitor map of the Northumberland Shore produced last year was used in the visitor centres and was “very well received.”
MacKinnon said DEANS received a lot of requests over the last few years for a Pictou County street map. “There hasn’t been one produced for quite some time so we decided we would produce that.” All of the new streets and roundabouts were included and progress was being made, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be printed this year.
They also partnered with Develop Nova Scotia and Tourism Nova Scotia to produce a video that was released on DEANS’ Facebook page. “It’s a video from the water in, so it has a little bit of a different perspective… It’s an impressive video,” she noted.
MacKinnon touched on the tour that took place last year with six different travel writers. They spent seven days in the area last fall and saw all of the experiences within Pictou County. They created a video from their experiences. “It’s a great little video,” that has been shared many times.
DEANS is rebranding with a new website — coastalnovascotia.com or coastalnovascotia.ca and also has a new logo which will be revealed in the coming months. MacKinnon pointed out that DEANS kept it local by working with Advocate Communications Group.
There are nine visitor services centres in the region — two in Pictou County. “We don’t know what that’s going to look like,” she said referring to the current restrictions on travel and social distancing.
The Ambassador Program that was started last year was a success. Through the pilot program, a lunch and learn session was hosted in partnership with the Municipality of Pictou County last year for volunteers in the 55-plus community to explain about the VICs and how they operate. “Twenty-two people attended that lunch and learn and from that, we had 21 of them sign up to volunteer.”
Thanks to the support of those volunteers, it enabled the VIC to remain open beyond October 1 until the ferry to PEI stopped running, an extra two and a half months. “It was a really successful program and in fact, Antigonish said it wants to do it too.”
With the current health crisis, MacKinnon said DEANS is looking at a number of different options with regard to visitor services. She said they are looking at some virtual situations used in other provinces.
The final pillar of DEANS’ focus is its partnerships and the events strategy component is what the organization wants to focus on in the future. Stellarton’s new marketing and communications co-ordinator, Paige Clarke, sits on the newly developed Events Pictou County committee.
Sports event will be a main focus of this committee. “People don’t realize the minor sports — minor hockey, minor ball, those kinds of events — are all tourism events that are taking money into our community but they’re not often thought of as a tourism piece, but they really are.”
MacKinnon said DEANS has hired an event co-ordinator who, in the coming weeks, will be in touch to discuss options to collaborate and work together on coming events.
Committee members will collaborate with others on dates for events to ensure events are not being held on the same weekends as other events.
This committee will meet — virtually — in the coming weeks to talk about how to move forward one the coronavirus is no longer an issue.
A lot has changed in the past five to six weeks but DEANS is optimistic about the future and continues to work on a number of endeavours including new regional guides.
There are still things being done, she told council. “Things are different but things are still happening at DEANS for 2020.”
Everything considered, MacKinnon said DEANS is not looking to the municipalities to increase funding to them; for Stellarton, that amounts to $4,600. DEANS will be looking beyond the municipalities for funding to support the tourism industry.
One of the initiatives MacKinnon promoted was the Dine & Stay Home link that was launched by Taste of Nova Scotia. It is available at https://www.coastalnovascotia.ca/dine-in-stay-home/ and also on DEANS Facebook page.
“DEANS is updating that list so if someone sees something missing or knows of something that should be added to it, they just have to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can put it up there right away for them. It’s all about keeping people aware of what’s open so they can access and support the local industry and the local economy.”