Lookout! Newfoundland and Labrador are coming on strong
ST. JOHN’S, NL—Not so long ago Newfoundland and Labrador was a have-not province, its people demoralized by the moratorium on cod. But these days, hospitality and tourism are coming on strong, part of the momentum that has made the area definitively one of the “haves”.
Nowhere was this more evident than at the Lookout! Tourism Summit held in St. Johns Feb. 17-20. The largest tourism convention and tradeshow in the province, this annual gathering of tourism stakeholders gives attendees an opportunity to network with 400 delegates from 150 different companies plus 45 tradeshow exhibitors, and gather valuable information that will affect tourism in the province.
John Dicks of Steele Hotels, chair of the board of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, noted that 2010 was a year filled with displays of ordinary people stepping up and leading. It saw the retirement of Premier Danny Williams, and the ascension of Premier Kathy Dunderdale, who accepted the challenge of becoming the province’s first woman premier. Hurricane Igor hit the province just in time for HNL’s annual golf tournament. The provincial tourism family stepped up to the plate, especially in the Eastern part of the province, which suffered greatly.
Kathy Duke stepped in to replace Keith Healey of Tourism St. John, who died suddenly in October. And HNL demonstrated leadership by unveiling a new logo (above) and a new website.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (left) with Captain Harvey Durnford of the Blue Puttees on Feb. 11, 2011.
When you’re on an island, transportation infrastructure plays a crucial role in the success of tourism. Wayne Follett, CEO of Marine Atlantic, was on hand to talk about the Blue Puttees, the new 600-foot-long vessel to run between Sydney, NS and Argentia, NL (near St. John’s). The ship will increase passenger capacity by 25 per cent. The Government of Canada has provided a five-year, $520 million investment that is enabling Marine Atlantic to implement its revitalization plans, which include another vessel, similar to the Blue Puttees, named the MV Highlanders.
Both vessels are named for regiments: the Blue Puttees for the WWI Newfoundland Regiment known for the strips of blue broadcloth they wound round their lower legs as part of their uniforms; and the Highlanders from Nova Scotia. Marine Atlantic is also upgrading their terminals, docks and signage.
General Rick Hillier, who hails from Newfoundland and Labrador, continued the leadership theme as he leaned on the podium, and spoke easily with the crowd.
“Newfoundlanders are not friendly. They’re just the nosiest people around,” he told the audience, adding that, “Selling Newfoundland and Labrador is the easiest job in the world.”
Dining facilities on the MV Blue Puttees ferry
One of his examples of leadership came in the story of Maureen Eichenboom, whose son Andrew “Boomer” Eichenboom died in Afghanistan in 2006. She came up to General Hillier and “put her finger halfway through my chest, saying, ‘We’re going to make sure the loss of our son is not in vain.’”
She established a foundation called The Boomer Legacy, which has raised $375,000 that has gone directly to the soldiers to make a difference in Afghanistan. Projects have ranged from buying a piece of equipment for a hospital so that they could provide open heart surgery for a three-year-old girl, to knitting 105,000 “Boomer Caps” so that Afghan children wouldn’t lose heat through their heads in winter weather.
Two years ago, the province’s tourism industry set out on a co-operative venture titled “Uncommon Potential”, consisting of seven steps to increase tourism in the province by 2020. During the conference, one measure of the success of work to date is that the number of visitors to Newfoundland and Labrador last year passed the 500,000 mark. Not bad for province with just 509,200 people!