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Nova Scotia's tourism industry recovering post-pandemic, but challenges remain

Dalhousie University hosted a panel discussion and launched a new report on Atlantic Canada's cruise industry
101317-halifax cruise ship-MG
A cruise ship along Halifax's waterfront

Elements of Nova Scotia’s tourism industry recovered nicely this year after an extended pandemic interruption, a Dalhousie University panel discussion heard Wednesday.

But challenges remain, such as supply chain matters, climate change and labour issues, the event was told.

Panelists said cruise ship visits and hotel use in the Halifax region are on the rebound after experiencing devastating economic losses.

Ross Jefferson, president and chief executive officer of Discover Halifax, the local destination marketing association, said there was “a lot of pent-up demand“ for travel in 2022.

Regarding staffing issues, he said “there are some wonderful academic institutions” in Atlantic Canada providing training to students seeking jobs in hospitality and tourism.

He said management at tourism companies must adapt in order to retain workers.

“You have to look after your people,” Jefferson said. “I think that that will be a fundamental shift, not (just) with the tourism industry but for all industries.”

Jefferson said four hotels are being built now in the Halifax region and are expected to open next year.

The 2022 cruise ship season here ended this month. Coronavirus-related restrictions had placed the industry on pause for two consecutive years.

A recent news release from the Halifax Port Authority said 2022 was a “strong rebuilding year” for the local cruise ship business, with visits from 148 vessels from late April to early November.

Panel member Sarah Rumley, executive director of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association, said almost 875,000 passengers were aboard 550 ships that visited ports in the Atlantic region in 2019, prior to the pandemic.

The industry was growing before the global public-health emergency struck.

“Unlike certain (sectors) of tourism, it was a full shutdown for two years in 2020 and 2021,” Rumley said. She acknowledged this year was a “wonderful rebound” from the pandemic hiatus.

The virtual panel talk was presented by Dalhousie’s MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance. The event included the promotion of a discussion paper by the institute, in partnership with the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association, on “scenario planning” for the cruise sector in the region.

The report can be found here.

Panelist Kevin Quigley, the scholarly director of the university’s MacEachen institute, said two rounds of scenario planning exercises led to the discussion paper on the industry.

He said they were done to help cruise business officials “identify and manage risks and seize opportunities” in the near future.

The role of panel member Rachel Dodds, a professor of hospitality and tourism management at Toronto Metropolitan University, was essentially that of devil’s advocate.

With respect to the cruise sector, Dodds suggested the local economic impact from ship visits isn’t always clear. She said people in Atlantic Canada should be aware that many passengers don’t disembark.

“Bigger ships tend to . . . have all the amenities onboard their ship,” said Dodds. “No need to even get off the boat these days.”

Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency in March 2020, due to the presence of COVID-19, and it stayed in place until last March.

A provincial government release last November said the province’s tourism industry lost $1.6 billion in 2020.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth

This is a corrected story: The original stated there were about 150 ships visited ports in the Atlantic region in 2019, when the actual number is around 550.

About the Author: Michael Lightstone

During a general-news career lasting close to 30 years, Michael LIghtstone has covered such things as politics, health matters, courts, labour issues and jazz concerts
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