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Ross Jefferson

Author:
Ross Jefferson
President & Chief Executive Officer, Discover Halifax
LinkedIn

It is always a challenge to try and predict what a new year will bring. And, as we have seen this past year, no one really knows what the future holds.

There is no question 2020 has hit us hard, it has impacted people’s lives and livelihoods profoundly across our region, country, and the world with the tourism industry being hit especially hard.

I see no other way than to go into 2021 with absolute gratitude for the tremendous efforts made by individuals, institutions, and businesses who have fought to keep both our communities safe and for their efforts to support our economic recovery. I also enter this new year with, perhaps, a strong sense of optimism and hope.

First, there has been a great deal of progress and development for COVID-19 vaccines. Second, businesses in even the hardest-hit sectors, like tourism and hospitality, have made tremendous sacrifices to help keep our counts low not only protecting lives, while helping expedite a speedier recovery and limiting effects of shutdowns from the second wave. Finally, we know there is pent-up demand for conferences, events, leisure travel, and visiting friends and relatives and we are seeing strong interest in Halifax as a safe destination.

Those are three significant factors that will help Halifax’s tourism industry recover in 2021. As the non-profit destination and marketing organization for the Halifax region, Discover Halifax is working hard to prepare, and here are the challenges we’re getting ready to take on in 2021.

Safe travel markets and experiences

Destination Canada, the federal Crown corporation that promotes tourism, says it may take until 2025 for the national tourism market to fully recover. Nova Scotia and Halifax’s market is well-positioned for a quicker turnaround due to our safe reputation, and our ability to offer unique outdoor travel experiences.

Outdoor experiences were in high demand this year! We saw significant uptake for new offerings like the tours of Georges Islands, which was sold out almost every weekend (Read more about that in Discover Halifax's recent blog post!)

Additionally, the Canadian market is expected to bounce back first. Since Canadians spend twice as much money outside of the country as they do domestically, there is huge potential to meet the demand and earn their travel dollars in Halifax.

Fierce competition

Discover Halifax’s group sales team and our partners have been fielding interest for events and conferences to be hosted in Halifax for 2022-2026. Now, that may seem like a long way off, but this industry always has a long selling schedule with many organizers booking three- to five-years out. So, while we’re predicting 2021 will be a slower year for conferences being held, we are very optimistic about it being a productive year for future bookings. We expect this important market, which brought $58 million to the region in 2019 to exceed years past for future bookings.

Many other destinations are aggressively working to attract event organizers to their cities because it brings in huge economic returns and helps attract new residents and investment. Halifax, Nova Scotia is uniquely positioned to compete in this space because of our dedicated sales teams and modern amenities, like the Halifax Convention Centre.

Air access to Halifax Regional Municipality

There is a lot of uncertainty about air access and travel routes. Even when it is safe to travel, the same options for service may not be there to meet customer demand right away if we do not act. We know we must invest and help the airline industry for us to fully recover.

One of the ways Discover Halifax is trying to tackle this is through Halifax’s Integrated Tourism Master Plan. The work we did in this plan emphasized the need to make it easy to get here and get around. We will continue to use this plan as a catalyst to support our airlines and Halifax’s Stanfield International Airport where they have worked so hard to protect people.

Consumer confidence

It will take time to rebuild consumer confidence when the time is right to welcome people back to the Halifax region.

The most recent research from Destination Canada shows that Atlantic Canadians, on the whole, don’t feel safe travelling yet and our Maritime neighbours are an important part of our travel market. Residents are also hesitant about welcoming people back into their community, even though there is an understanding that the tourism industry is huge for our economy. In 2019, the Halifax region benefitted from more than $1.3 billion in direct, local spending.

It is tremendously important for us to continue to share safety information and remind residents and travellers that we will not risk their safety. The biggest risk to us, now, is that we forget who we are as a welcoming, kind and friendly place to live, work, study, and visit.

One thing I remain confident in is Halifax’s ability to come together and support each other. We really have what it takes to protect our quality of life and position our region to win in what is a brand-new world, let alone a new year. I hope you’re entering it with gratitude, optimism, and hope, too.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact the Mental Health Provincial Crisis Line available 24/7 at 1-888-429-8167, or find more resources and support at https://mha.nshealth.ca/en.