PORT HAWKESBURY: The deputy mayor wants to know who is involved in talks about changes to the Port Hastings Rotary.

The question came after a presentation by Destination Cape Breton (DCB) CEO Terry Smith at the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on June 1.

Smith told council that, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism trends were up from 2009 to 2019, including 110,000 more room nights sold, visitation at the Cape Breton Highlands National Park increased by 108,000, the growth in cruise ships at the Port of Sydney went up over 100,000, and the economic impact of the Celtic Colours Festival more than tripled in that time span.

The CEO said there was “tremendous growth” in that period due to public and private sector investments.

“We really had some good momentum. We were recognized as the number one island in North America. Everything was heading in a really positive direction, and then the pandemic hit,” he noted. “Our growth, incrementally, has more than doubled that of the province overall.”

Although the Atlantic Bubble will likely be restored in the early summer, there will be a re-opening this summer, and Atlantic Canada could re-open soon to the rest of the country in August, Smith is predicting another difficult year for tourism operators.

He told council he is optimistic that 2022 could spell a return to normal with large events, cruise ships visiting and tourists coming into Cape Breton like they did not long ago.

Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton and Town Councillor Mark MacIver echoed Smith’s hopes for a return to normal next year.

“Tourism is an important sector, for the Town of Port Hawkesbury, and for our island here,” the mayor said. “We definitely want to rise again before 2030.”

Deputy Warden Blaine MacQuarrie agreed that the tourism industry is “vital” to Cape Breton. He asked Smith whether DCB is involved in discussions about planned improvements to the entrance to Cape Breton at the Canso Causeway.

Smith said they were on a call with the Department of Transportation and Active Transport, along with municipal partners, other groups, and the province about their plans.

“The next step is looking at scoping a project to develop a plan in terms of what a re-imagining could look like,” Smith replied. “There are a number of the partners that are going to, I think, come together to fund that consultant project.”

Following the meeting, Town Councillor Jason Aucoin added that that project can bring more people into the town.

“I think refreshing that, and rejuvenating it, making it a safer entrance, will help the Town of Port Hawkesbury a lot,” he added. “I think right now, when some of the tourists come in, they see a confusing rotary, and just head for the sign they see where they want to go.”