Tourism is one of Cape Breton Island’s most important industries. Prior to the pandemic, it included over 700 businesses and organizations that employed over 5,500 people and generated over $400 million annually to our island economy.
It was growing too. As just one example of that growth, room nights sold in 2019 were 100,000 greater than in 2009. We were seeing new investments in businesses and experiences and there was a strong trajectory.
When COVID-19 hit, tourism was the first industry hit, but it was also the hardest hit and will likely be the last to fully recover. Last summer, we were thankful for the Atlantic Bubble, but for our island’s tourism industry, which normally sees about 80 per cent of our visitors coming from outside Atlantic Canada, it was a huge challenge.
The challenge was particularly hard for our medium-sized and larger accommodations, bed and breakfasts, culture and heritage experiences, artisans and artists of all disciplines, retailers, tour operators, and transportation providers. While many have received some government support, the support is nowhere near what they would have received through normal visitation in a pre-pandemic tourism year.
There are also some operators that are falling through the cracks in current programs, particularly newer operators that opened in the latter part of 2019 and beyond who do not have the financial track record to demonstrate losses from COVID. In some cases, they have poured their life savings into starting their new businesses and now find that they don’t qualify for supports that other businesses in the same community are receiving. We strongly encourage governments at all levels to rectify this funding gap.
The one silver lining during the pandemic has been the support that Cape Breton residents have provided to our industry by choosing to connect with their Island through staycations. Our residents have provided a lifeline to many tourism operators and we will continue to benefit from the hospitality of all of these ambassadors who have discovered anew why visitors have voted us the #1 island in North America.
This week is Tourism Week in Canada and the Tourism Industry Association of Canada is asking Canadians to take a pledge to travel in Canada this year. Destination Cape Breton echoes that message, but for Cape Breton residents, we are asking you to once again support our tourism industry by taking a staycation here at home. Take a trip to a part of the island you haven’t been to in years or maybe ever. Consider taking a week-long vacation and go out of your way to support those operators mentioned above who have been hardest hit. You’ll be investing in the future of this vital industry for our Island.
The Tourism Week slogan for 2021 is “Tourism Counts…it’s what makes Canada Glow.” There are few places on the planet that glow like Cape Breton Island, so let’s explore our island this year and keep it glowing!
Terry Smith, CEO
Destination Cape Breton