By: Paulette Hicks, CEO, Envision Saint John: The Growth Agency
Summer 2022 is just a moment away, and we’re charting the course for tourism recovery.
We already know tourism is a serious economic driver. Pre-pandemic, the Saint John region produced visitor spending of $282M per year, welcoming 1.7 million visitors – including nearly 200,000 cruise guests. Today, cruise is back, our Q1 -2022, year over year, hotel occupancy demand is up 65%, and our region is positioned for a strong recovery.
Because over the past two years we’ve recognized the enormous value of our natural assets: a beautiful, historic uptown core, the world-famous Bay of Fundy tides, our rivers, gems like the St. Martins Sea Caves and the Fundy Trail Parkway, and our vibrant Maritime culture. By combining these assets and more, we’ve come together with a new and much more powerful regional value proposition to drive transformational growth.
This is the second in a series of articles about our region’s growth opportunities, and how we’re leaning into them together. We are bringing our extensive expertise in visitor attraction, tourism product development and partnership development to the table to amplify and diversify our region’s value proposition as we get ready to invite the world.
Our own summer marketing campaigns launch next week, and while that is underway, we will also be supporting ‘The Invitation’, a five-year Provincial tourism recovery strategy, designed to make New Brunswick the province of choice to visit, to live, and to build a business. We have already stepped up to pilot regional engagement sessions and were proud to host the official launch earlier this Spring. The effort will start with leisure travellers, and broaden to encompass people, businesses, and investment attraction as the plan rolls out – perfectly aligning with our 10-year outcome to grow our region’s population by 25,000 people. We know that every visitor to our region is a potential student, new resident, business owner or investor.
Last week we celebrated the arrival of the Seven Seas Navigator at Port Saint John, marking the resumption of cruise in our region. Cruise tourism injects $68 million annually into the regional economy, and that number – pre-pandemic – was steadily growing. Our partners at Port Saint John are working hard to showcase our region on the global stage and we are developing integrated communications strategies to accelerate this focus not just for cruise but for all lines of business at the port.
Envision Saint John is also investing in strategic sponsorships that are helping to elevate our place brand and generating economic impact for our region. These include our ongoing Area 506 sponsorship, as well as Moonlight Bazaar, Sculpture Saint John, the KV Music Festival and the inaugural Fundy Sea Shanty Festival in St. Martins.
Sport tourism is essential to recovery, and we partnered with the Saint John Sea Dogs on the winning proposal for this year’s CHL Memorial Cup presented by KIA bringing an estimated $10-$12M in economic impact to our region. We are a proud platinum sponsor and look forward to the excitement and vitality in our uptown we can all expect with this 10-day celebration of hockey.
Investing in tourism infrastructure and product development is a crucial tool for growth. A perfect example for this season is the Area 506 Shipping Container Village – which will be home to the Area 506 music festival as well as a destination for retail, food, beverage, and cultural experiences. Our Agency will be piloting a Welcome Centre in the shipping container village offering navigation services for visitors, new residents and potential business owners and investors.
Our region is rich with tourism products, including many that are poised to start reaping the benefits of years of planning and investment. The Fundy Trail Parkway is top of that list. This year it will open its gates on a fresh new season, fully connected for the first time to Sussex and to Fundy National Park. The redevelopment of Harbour Passage/Loyalist Plaza/the Boardwalk is another example, and it is just the first phase of the massive Fundy Quay project happening on the waterfront in Saint John.
It is true that some of our assets need attention. At last month’s State of the Province address, the Premier committed to defining a path forward for the New Brunswick Museum in the Saint John region. With many of our visitors interested in heritage and genealogical tourism, the value of the NBM cannot be overstated. The visitor experience at the Reversing Falls Rapids needs attention as well. We recognize this unique phenomenon has geological and historical significance that we should be leveraging. On both these files, we are working with key stakeholders to achieve the incredible potential of these assets.
There’s a lot on the docket. For some of these projects, Envision Saint John will play an important role in pulling them over the finish line, maintaining momentum, removing roadblocks, and convening action-oriented teams ready to get stuff done. For those that are ready to go, we will amplify promotions, support visitor experience, and capture the celebration – feeding our value proposition and leveraging the expertise accumulated to accelerate growth.
It all boils down to embracing four simple words: how can I help?