Albert County blesses us with breathtaking scenery year round, but the first snowfall truly transforms it into a magical, winter wonderland. We find peace in exploring our favourite spots and enjoying a meal in one of the few rural restaurants brave enough to remain open throughout the “off season.”
I’ve worked in tourism for several years and in all sectors (provincial at Hopewell Rocks for many years, federal at Fundy National Park and non-profit at Fundy’s Cape Enrage). I’ve personally witnessed the struggle and financial hardships of surviving unemployed winters on EI. The winter offerings in the off season are slim in rural areas. I have been challenged in finding activities and things to do, or an open restaurant or accommodations for friends, clients or media to enjoy. This is true in many of the rural communities throughout Atlantic Canada that rely on tourism as a key economic driver.
The challenge of the seasonal nature of our tourism is not a new one, and certainly remains a complex issue. We see the boost in excitement, activity, experiences and economy from May to October each year ever since we became an international destination. We also experience the vast changes come mid-October when the bulk of the rural tourism employees are laid off and businesses close.
As a spin-off of the additional awareness and exposure, our communities would thrive year-round, not just during the busy months. Although July and August would remain the most popular months to visit, we may see some of the pressure taken off of those 8-10 weeks of high demand. We would have more experiences, products and services to promote and offer.
Over time, we would have a greater balance. We could overcome our idle winter tourism season and increase opportunities for our communities.
This certainly doesn’t happen easily, or quickly. Understanding the “end of season burn-out” that many of us have felt come October, I know a longer season is not for everyone nor for every business.
Working together and with receptive operators, such as ABConnect, Albert County businesses gain an advantage. They develop a greater marketing reach, and stronger hooks and incentives to keep visitors here longer with longer planned trips. They can work together in cross-promotion.
Certain Albert County businesses can remain open during the off season and offer unique and safe experiences that enhance the richness of a visit to the area. Activities include snowshoeing, glamping, fat-biking, maple fun, artisan shopping and, of course, restaurant feasts.
If these difficult times - what I refer to as a “throat-punch tourism year” of 2020 - have taught us anything, it’s that it’s time entrepreneurs look at doing business differently.
As the new year begins, it’s time for owners of tourism-related businesses to review their business model and goals. Understanding that demand needs to warrant the expenses, energy and labour costs; entrepreneurs can review their business model and goals. Is there flexibility to offer some year-round products/ services? Could the business open by appointment or part-time? Are there options of selling online or by pick-up only during COVID?
I encourage everyone to get outside and take part in activities this winter while supporting our local tourism businesses.