Ferry schedule hurting tourism

Operators say traffic is down so far this season

Rudy Norman rnorman@thenorwester.ca
Published on July 17, 2014

When Marine Atlantic announced changes to their summer schedule back in May, it didn’t come without controversy. Now, it looks as if that move will have local repercussions.

The crown corporation said it would be cutting back on the number of crossings ferries made between Nova Scotia and Newfoundland due to the decrease in commercial traffic. The changes meant that two crossings for both the Blue Puttees and the Highlanders would be eliminated from each port each week.

With the upcoming tourism season, operators and advocates immediately said the changes would likely have an effect on their businesses once they started up for the year. While at the time the complaints were unproven, one tourist operator says they weren’t wrong back in May.

“Oh my goodness, it’s shockin’” said Valerie Whelan.

She and her husband, Larry, run the Outport Museum and Tea Room in La Scie. The couple are well known in the tourism industry throughout the province and beyond, winning the Tourism Pinnacle award last year at the Adventure Central ‘Bergy’ awards, and being named to the “place to eat in Canada” guide for the past nine years.

Whelan says they’ve seen a difference in traffic coming through their business this year as opposed to previous years.

“There’s not so many people coming through this year, no,” she said. “I think the ferry has a big thing to do with that because it’s so hard to get a crossing now; people are not bothering with it.”

Whelan said they’ve already heard complaints from people who return each season about their frustrations.

“We have one group in particular that comes from Texas every year,” she said. “They come in a big motorhome and bring their Jeep – they come back to the Baie Verte Peninsula every year because they love it here.”

Whelan says this year, when the changes to the schedule were announced, they informed their Texan friends about it, and they had to change their plans.

“Now they had to change when they were going to come because they had to schedule their plans around Marine Atlantic,” she said. “It shouldn’t be. People shouldn’t have to wait and make their plans based on when the ferry is running.”

She said the same went for regular customers from Ontario, and others from other parts of the world.


Association not happy

Jennifer Whelan, President of the Dorset Trail Tourism Association, says Marine Atlantic is a sore spot in their industry because she feels it limits people’s ability to experience Newfoundland and Labrador like it should be experienced.

“We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world – people should be able to see that, and they’re not going to see it from the inside of an airport,” said the chairperson of The Gathering festival.

Whelan says Marine Atlantic is the province’s gateway to rural Newfoundland and Labrador because those places require extensive driving – something not everyone that flies into the province can do.

“We don’t want people to fly into St. John’s International (Airport), see a bit of the city from a taxi and go back and say ‘We were in Newfoundland,’” she said. “People need to get out and experience the province by driving to these little outports and experiencing rural Newfoundland and Labrador.”

Whelan says the best way to do that is to arrive here via the water – but Marine Atlantic has always been a sore spot in that regard.

“It’s very frustrating to say the least,” she said. “Tourism is a billion-dollar industry right now and we want to keep it that way – but we need the infrastructure and service level to do that.”


Come for the fishcakes …

Valerie Whelan says despite the schedule, she’s going to be still in the kitchen preparing traditional Newfoundland meals for the people who do happen to get here, and who continually rave about the experience they have.

“We’ve had people drop in this year from Germany, Switzerland and a few more places,” she said. “They always say they love the fishcakes and the jigg’s dinner, so we keep giving it to them as long as they’ll keep coming back.”