High gas prices slowing down Cape Breton tourism

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SYDNEY — Blame it on high gas prices and the ongoing economic impact of a bad winter that cut into summer travel plans, but it does appear the summer of 2014 will not go down as a stellar year for tourism in Cape Breton.

No matter what way you travel this summer, fuel costs are going to enter the picture at some point.

No matter what way you travel this summer, fuel costs are going to enter the picture at some point.

In an informal survey, several people involved in Cape Breton's tourism sector say there are fewer tourists visiting the island this year, especially from the U.S. and Europe. Kilian Schlemmer, whose family owns the Baddeck Cabot Trail Campground where he works as a front desk manager, says while their operation tends to cater more to Cape Breton campers, there definitely seem to be fewer off-island visitors this year.

"I would say there are less American tourists at our campground than in previous seasons and I've heard the same from other campground owners," said Schlemmer.

"So far this season, it has not been much different from any other season. The big reason for that at our campground is that we are not as dependent on tourists as some other campgrounds because the majority of our guests are actually locals from Cape Breton Island. You have many campgrounds around the island who are very dependent on tourists, especially from the United States. We're not quite as dependent, so while we still do need them for business and we do have a lot of them, it doesn't hurt as much when they don't travel as much because we have so many locals at our place."

Rodney Chaisson, manager of the Highland Village in Iona, says he has noticed a slight decline in visitors this year, which he estimates to be around one per cent in July.

"We're having a decent summer — we're off a little bit but not significantly," said Chaisson. "We're only down about one per cent or something like that.

"There's lots of people around. We are seeing more Nova Scotians, certainly."

Chaisson says while June was good, the first part of July was slower than usual.

"The last few weeks have been really good, " he said, adding he expects better numbers as the season rolls into the fall.

For Fortress Louisbourg National Historic Site, the figures at first appear dismal, until you put them into proper context, says Parks Canada spokeswoman Maria O'Hearn.

"Visitor numbers at the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site have decreased by 26.8 per cent since 2013, which was expected, given the focus on Louisbourg300 celebrations last year," said O'Hearn in an email. "A better comparison — because it wasn't a celebration year — is against 2012 numbers, which shows an increase of 4.2 per cent in visitors to the fortress up to late July 2014."

A similar situation exists with other Parks Canada sites on Cape Breton. Visitation numbers at Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site have fallen five per cent compared to this time last year, but are up 5.9 per cent compared to 2012. And at Cape Breton Highlands National Park, O'Hearn says early indications show the numbers are up from this time last year. She also pointed to a trend that's becoming more pronounced each year — visitors are arriving later in the season.

"In the past, we tend to see the continuation of a trend we have experienced in recent years which sees our visitation peak later in the season. This means we’re seeing less visitors in the late spring, but we’re greeting more visitors in August and September."

One tourism operator, who did not wish to be identified, said there were significantly fewer visitors from Europe, the U.S., and even other parts of Canada. That decline was blamed partially on a universally severe winter that saw most people dealing with higher heating, plowing and automotive costs, leading to less money for summer travel plans. Another reason that could be slowing the driving tourist down is the ever-rising cost of gasoline.

"Gas could definitely be a factor, especially considering the larger motor homes that getting up to 45 feet," said Schlemmer. "The tanks are unimaginably expensive to fill — more than a few hundred dollars."

epatterson@cbpost.com

 

Organizations: Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site, Parks Canada, Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

Geographic location: Cape Breton Island, United States, Europe Highland Village Iona Cape Breton Highlands National Park Canada

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