Inverness MLA seeks clarification on future of Visitor Information Centres

HALIFAX: A local MLA said he was comforted by responses he heard regarding Visitor Information Centres (VICs).

During question period in the provincial legislature on March 1, Inverness MLA Allan MacMaster asked tourism minister Geoff MacLellan about comments MacLellan made at a tourism conference in the fall regarding VICs. Specifically, MacMaster asked MacLellan about referring to the centres as “baby seals” and if MacLellan wants to close the centres.

Back in March of 2016, former Business Minister Mark Furey confirmed all six provincially-run VICs would remain open in their host communities, including Port Hastings, which ended weeks of speculation regarding the futures of the centres.

Although Furey said traffic at VICs decreased over the last decade as more travelers turn to on-line resources to plan their trips, he also told The Reporter at the time that Port Hastings was one of the VICs that enjoyed “a spike” in visitation during the 2015 season.

In his response to MacMaster last week, MacLellan said the data shows the centres are not utilized as much as they were in the past but residents want the centres to remain.

“If you look at all these sites across the province, Mr. Speaker, they really do have a different application, the one at the Causeway, the one in Amherst, the one in Yarmouth,” MacLellan said in the House of Assembly. “If you look at the different purposes, there is a varied usage for them. We just want to make the best of those, and we’re not giving up on those until we find the right model for Tourism Nova Scotia.”

MacMaster then asked if the centres will remain open, to which MacLellan said the centres are important to the communities they serve.

“For us, we are committed to finding a solution,” MacLellan stated. “I really believe that there is a hybrid model of private-sector operation there with information services, but also including some of the things that Taste of Nova Scotia would do.

“I do see a future,” MacLellan continued. “It may not look like it did in the past, but we know VICs are important to the communities in which they serve and we’ll make sure that we figure it out, take our time to do it right, and figure out the best model for each and every one of the VIC sites.”

Last Friday, MacMaster said MacLellan’s response gave him comfort.

“He responded [by] saying they may look at changes to them but he did say they would be keeping them open and I think that’s good,” said MacMaster. “When you have over 75,000 people stopping there for help and advice, it’s proof the customer wants the service and I know it’s helpful.”

MacMaster said he hopes MacLellan understands people value the VICs and don’t want to see anything happen to them.