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Proceedings of the Conference ~ Cape Breton in Transition: Economic Diversification and Prospects for Tourism

edited by William A. O'Shea ,
Carol Corbin and Eric Krause
(October 20-21, 1998)



Angus MacIntyre

What is community based tourism?

- buzz words - over-used and poorly understood, if at all

Is it possible?

- Yes, but not in our present way of thinking.

- We need a new way of thinking about old problems, that is, old solutions don't work in the present economy.

Is it desirable?

- The truthful answer is NO!

- That is to say, politicians, at this point in time, are not into meaningful public participation, which translates into community-based planning.


- Too much trouble for politicians and bureaucrats, as well as technicians and consultants, to understand the concept.

- Hard to show immediate results - no quick fix

- Generally speaking, those who come to help, if the truth be known, do not believe in people's ability to solve their own problems. This can be easily tested by observing what they do versus what they say.


- Strategic Planning - anticipates the future - not ad hoc - responding to the past - it is like having 20/20 vision looking in our rear view mirror while driving our car.

Yesterday someone said "Keep things in their global context". What is context for tourism? - The context for tourism is comprehensive community planning. Locally that means taking our cultural, social and economic reality into consideration. Planning with local knowledge & values in balance with national, international and global trends.


Tourism is not the answer to all Cape Breton's problems - but it can be a big part of the answer.

Networking/partnership often means you joining me to work on my agenda even though I pretent otherwise.

Wilderness/naturalness - 70% of the world is wilderness and only a few go there

World Class - where is our track record? - why come here and why talk to one another? Is this an example of pooling our collective ignorance? If we want to learn about world-class we have to learn from those who are now doing it. If we sell ourselves as world class and are not, then we are in real trouble.


Which leads me into my first point - marketing

- Always tells the truth - may exaggerate but only slightly - never tells a lie. If you want benchmark standards - want to understand marketing - which is to know the what, why, to whom and how - then take a look at those that are successful - and see what you can apply in Atlantic Canada.

What do tourists want? - General: safety, security, comfort, convenience, entertainment and education - yes EDUCATION. The tourism of the future will include industrial tourism as a niche. Maybe forestry, tar ponds, coke ovens, etc., can be part of an industrial tourism strategy. The other niches are cultural - low impact respecting the values and traditions of local people; eco-tourism; recreation/leisure tourism, etc.

Love our critics - if it were possible we should be paying them for their criticisms. Several large corporations are in fact doing this. I have heard criticisms about our ski hills, golf courses (existing and proposed), the Fortress here, paving of the new route/trail to Louisbourg, etc. In each and every case we should listen carefully as to what people are saying and why, because many people criticize because they care.

The highway from Sydney to St. Peters should be upgraded but DO IT FOR THE LOCALS first and the tourists will use it. Then people can come to travel around Cape Breton and not just the Cabot Trail.

- What do tourists want?

Specific: unique, rare, unusual, interesting and often mass appeal.

What don't they want?

General: strangeness, risk, ripped off

Specific: out-of-date facilities, uncaring, second-class service.

Examples: G7 Summit in Halifax - Read what the international media thought of our service. It was reported in the Globe and Mail and a lot of it was negative, even though they also said they found people friendly and enjoyed the culture. The point is that friendliness and good service are not the same thing. At the Canada Games in Sydney a few years ago many people had the same experience, namely, friendly people but poor service.

Community-based tourism would lead to a necklace of jewels around Cape Breton Island, with each community and region knowing what they do best and complementing what adjacent or other regions are doing. Our real competition is not from the business down the road - it is Florida, the Boston states, Japan, Europe, etc.

Richmond Tourism: They are developing a plan based on their strengths and avoiding their weaknesses. This should be part of an overall plan for the Island, eastern Nova Scotia, the Maritimes, Newfoundland, etc.



NIMBY - In Cape Breton we have raised the NOT IN MY BACK YARD syndrome to a new level, that is, the NEEMBY syndrome, which stands for NOTHING EXISTS EXCEPT MY BACK YARD, and the ultimate insult - my back yard is more important than yours.

Who are our competitors? Not the mainland, P.E.I., N.B. or Newfoundland. They are our best allies and we should be working out common strategies with them about how to get tourists to Atlantic Canada.



Local attitude - me against the world!

If I am in a lifeboat, I have my oar, you have yours, and we each row in different directions.



Art - culture, historical, crafts


Some real-life examples of what others have done:


A few years ago local residents would have described Marathon as being 3 km off Highway # 17, halfway between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay in northern Ontario. Today they describe it as being on Lake Superior halfway between Winnipeg and Toronto - a great place to rest your bones and experience local hospitality at its best.

Four years ago tourism was a dirty word in this region of the country. Forestry (18 billion a year in Canada) and mining (16 billion a year) were seen as the only important industries in northern Ontario. Tourism, which brings 25 billion into the Canadian economy, was not recognized as anything but seasonal employment with no real impact.

Tourism was thought as of as lasting eight weeks a year, providing low income jobs and of no real benefit. Advertisement consisted of a few gold pins that people took with them when they went out of town. In 1991 they received 1,500 visitors at the local Tourist Information Centre.

Today, things have changed. In 1992 they received 22,000 people at their new Visitor Information Centre and have increased that amount slightly every year since then. They are also successful in attracting almost 20% of these visitors to travel the 3 km into town because they are able to identify clearly what they have to offer that is unique and different.

Marathon now has a reputation across Ontario for being the best tourism (visitor) centre in the province. Why? Because the staff are well-trained and know their job, namely, to keep the tourist in northern Ontario as long as they can. They know their community, but they have all travelled the entire region as part of their orientation and training program.

Marathon developed its waterfront by going to the United States and looking at success. The message there was always the same - do it for local people first and the tourists will come, and don't make the mistake we made by over-developing an area or region. And then they went to other parts of Canada where waterfronts were developed to see what they did that was successful and to learn what they would do differently if they had to do it over again.


Once considered the HUB OF THE NORTH now considered the Gateway to the North - jumping off spot for the famous Churchill polar bear express train trip.

Mystery Country International has been successful in developing a strategy not just for Thompson but for northern Manitoba.

A few short stories:

The campground in Thompson had a reputation of being the absolute worst campground that visitors from the United States and Canada had ever used. It was costing the city $40,000 a year to operate this facility. A local entrepreneur offered to buy it for $75,000 and to fix it up over three years. After some interesting negotiations the city sold it to this individual for $50,000 - with the agreement that an extra $50,000 would be spent immediately to bring it up to standard and proper advertisement and promotion would be done to let people know of the changes. It is now the most popular camping spot in northern Manitoba. Truly a win-win situation.

The Provincial Snowmobile Association in Manitoba always held their annual meetings in Winnipeg or Brandon. Thompson being 500 miles north of Winnipeg was just too far to go. Not so. The local club convinced the executive to give them a try and the annual meetings were held in Thompson for the following three years. The reason was a well-planned program which left nothing to chance. Every detail from the time people arrived in Thompson until they left was taken into consideration.

Elderhostels are now being held in Thompson despite the fact that people said it was too far north to attract anyone.


Who's vision are we talking about and what do we mean by a tourist?

Next - We have to figure out our strengths and weaknesses and remember that we are not northern Florida

Then survey our customers - not once or twice, but all the time.

What are the demographics - Canada, U.K., Japan, France, Germany, Hong Kong, etc. There are 5 billion people now on earth but how many are tourists?

World Tourist Organization - 1993 - 500 million tourists

Definition of a tourist: Someone who travels 80k and stays overnight

In the year 2000 there will be 661 million tourists and in the year 2010 there will be 937 million. This is a 90% increase over 1993 figures.

We have to rethink how we do things. Stop tying ourselves to the tourism world of yesterday and begin to try and understand the recreation and leisure needs of tomorrow's tourists.

Have we done our homework? What does this 90% increase mean? It means we go from 300 billion tourism trading dollars to 600 billion. There will be a 1.4 trillion dollar market in the near future.

Where are the opportunities? What does the market research tell us? Where is the market research - in Ottawa or Halifax?

It is as simple as observing someone going into a restaurant. What do they want to know? They want to know what is my range of choice? Is it going to be good when I get it? Not what is it going to cost.


How are we going to accomplish our vision with the existing infrastructure and plant? That's like asking how are we going to get to the moon in a Chev.

Start feeding opportunities and starving the leeches - Let the local community decide.

Look at government grants - Maybe there should be demolition grants. Let locals design the next government program - Where can government money be best used?

Best government = the Least Government - NO/NO/NO

The best government is the most thoughtful government. This means that if ECBC/ACOA created a partnership with the Cape Breton tourism industry's key stakeholders to plan a long-range strategy for the future of tourism on the Island it could serve as a model for the rest of the province.

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Published by the Louisbourg Heritage Society
ISBN 1-896218--07-5
© Louisbourg Institute
Extracted from the Proceedings of the Cape Breton
in Transition Conference, October 20-21, 1995