Halifax hopes music scene, hidden gems can revive tourism sector

·3 min read
The schooner Bluenose II, Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador, cruises the harbour in Halifax in the pre-COVID-19 days of 2019.  (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The schooner Bluenose II, Nova Scotia's sailing ambassador, cruises the harbour in Halifax in the pre-COVID-19 days of 2019. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Halifax's new tourism strategy will be a year-round effort to showcase the local music scene, launch new events and appeal to international travellers as the municipality looks to rebound post-pandemic from losses of around $800 million so far.

Discover Halifax, the regional marketing association that oversees tourism in the Nova Scotia capital, presented its long-awaited integrated tourism master plan to regional council on Tuesday.

The plan includes 28 ideas to help breathe new life into a struggling sector, including working with the province's musicians to make Halifax a music destination.

"The opportunity to leverage that talent for live performances, for cultural performances — those things don't need to be here just in the summertime," said Ross Jefferson, the CEO of Discover Halifax.

"There are opportunities for us to animate our destination, improve these experiences all year round."

The organization estimates Halifax saw tourism plunge by 85 per cent last year. It's a hit that will also be felt this year, with the federal government extending its ban on cruise ships until 2022.

Local tourists keep industry afloat

Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours Gray Line and Murphy's The Cable Wharf, said he never imagined he'd see his bustling tourism companies experience such a devastating blow.

He said they were saved by the support of locals, who took boat tours and jumped at the chance to visit Georges Island when it temporarily opened up last summer.

"We know there's a demand for that this season," he said.

While that will keep his companies afloat, Campbell said he's thrilled with what he has seen from the new master plan. Emphasizing Halifax's music scene, he said, is long overdue.

"That's an initiative that there's been talk of for some time. It makes so much sense," he said. "It would just be so, so good for not just Haligonians, but all Nova Scotians."

The new master plan was developed before the pandemic and was supposed to be launched a year ago. Jefferson said the plan places the tourism industry in a strong position to work together as it rebuilds.

A stop along the way

The plan also calls for the renewal of a stopover promotion which partners with airlines to allow travellers between Europe and North America to tack Halifax on to their trip.

A test project was in the works with WestJet when everything shut down due to COVID-19.

"It was getting good attention and we were looking forward to expanding that," said Jefferson.

"As we do look for the return now of air access into the region, that's a program that we're very excited about pursuing again with the major airlines."

Discover Halifax said it also wants its tourism plan to encompass all of the Halifax Regional Municipality, instead of focusing on the traditionally popular spots.

"We've got an opportunity here to leverage the beautiful communities that we have so that we are making sure that visitors are not being concentrated necessarily at one site," said Jefferson.

"We're making strong investments in a number of new icons to be developed, transportation corridors to those regions, and the opportunity to disperse visitors throughout HRM."

Evergreen Festival a success

Campbell said the municipality has already seen the benefit of some of the plan. A new event — the Evergreen Festival — was hosted in the city's downtown and waterfront areas in December.

Walkable parts of the municipality were decked out in twinkling lights, including a light show displayed at city hall, as part of the inaugural outdoor festival.

"Once we get beyond restrictions, the Evergreen Festival is going to be spectacular for Halifax," said Campbell. "It's going to be something that is going to be a legacy that will continue on for many years."