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Article by Terri Coles

Tourism to and within Newfoundland and Labrador has come a long way in a short period of time – it’s officially a billion-dollar industry in this province now, providing a growing number of jobs.

The province is halfway into a 10-year tourism strategy, called Uncommon Potential, and is on track to meet its goals. “This year [tourism-related] spending will top $1.1 billion in Newfoundland and Labrador” Premier Paul Davis told a crowd of tourism industry professionals at the annual Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador conference and trade show in Gander this winter. That’s up from $878 billion in 2010, when the Uncommon Potential plan was launched with the ambitious goal of doubling the province’s annual tourism revenue by 2020.

It was also recently announced that the province’s four destination-management organizations will undertake their three-year tourism development plans with the help of $817,000 from the federal government.

However, despite the undeniable progress made in tourism in the province in recent years, and funding announcements like the one for the four DMOs, tourism operators have concerns about recent structural changes in the Newfoundland and Labrador government and the cooling provincial economy.
Last year the provincial government merged the departments of Innovation, Business and Rural Development and Tourism, Culture and Recreation, a change that was of concern to some in the tourism industry. And as of March, Darin King Minister of Business, Tourism, Culture and Rural Development, is now also Minister of Justice and Public Safety, leaving some wondering how the extra workload will affect his performance as the minister responsible for tourism.

But at the recent Hospitality Newfoundland & Ladrabor conference, King said, “The intention of combining the two departments was to show the enhanced status of the hospitality industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.”

It makes sense that the industry wants to know they can keep up their positive momentum. Last year nearly 500,000 non-residents visited the province, an increase of two percent from 2013, and of course, residents travel within Newfoundland and Labrador as well.

But challenges do remain. The number of non-residents who visited the province by vehicle decreased by 7.5 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year, for example. And Marine Atlantic saw a decrease in passenger movements (in both directions) of 6.9 percent. At the conference, sponsor Marine Atlantic launched a discount on travel on the Argentia ferry – passengers who book by March 25 would save 30 percent on the regular vehicle and passenger rates.

Tourism operators, DMOs, and other industry professionals traded tips and shared concerns at the three-day conference, held in Gander. Awards were presented at the Wednesday luncheon to the Wooden Boat Museum of Newfoundland and Labrador and O’Brien’s Whale and Boat Tours, source of a video of two whales breaching that made its way around online last summer.

Joe O’Brien of O’Brien’s called for ongoing cooperation between not just tourism operators in the province but also the tourism industry and the provincial government, saying “If we don’t partner, we don’t prosper.”