Since 1998 the town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia has welcomed the arrival of a ship with two hulls that runs on jet engines. An unusually fast ship the Cat Ferry cut in half the two-day trip from Bar Harbor, Maine to the southwest Nova Scotia town. This brought American tourists to Nova Scotia complete with cars, recreational vehicles or tour buses.
The Cat ferry began service 12 years ago and boasted between 100,000 and 150,000 passengers every year. However, in recent years that number has dropped to be low 76,000 and the service only servivied through government subsidies: $1.3 million in 2005; $2.5 million in 2007; and $4.4 million in 2008. In 2009 the service was given the astounduing sum of $12 million. This is a subsidy of around $158 a person.
This is not the first hit for Yarmouth. In the early 1990′s a series of industry closings hurt ther area so tourism played a big part in the economic well-being. A few years ago the venerable Prince of Fundystopped operations. This traditional ferry service brought people in from Maine on a more regular basis than the Cat and its demise hurt many accommodation operations including bed-and-breakfasts as well as hotels and restaurants.
It is not that the Cat was the “end-all-and-be-all” of tourism dollars coming to Nova Scotia. It is just one in a string of tourism losses for Yarmouth including a pullout by Starlink, an air carrier that started service from Yarmouth to Maine less than a year ago.
With the high Canadian dollar, American Homeland Security roadblocks and the economic hits in the U.S. tourists from the south as a dying breed. In addition, the improvement of roads in Maine and southern new Brunswick mean that trip from Halifax to Boston and vice versa is a lot quicker than it used to be and, even with high gas prices, a lot cheaper than taking the Cat.
The traditional gateway to the U.S. by water has now closed. But this does not mean that southwest Nova Scotia is doomed. The loss of the ferries just means that Nova Scotia has to change its campaign for drawing tourist dollars into the province. What worked in the 1990′s does not necessarily translate into revenue anymore.
And at $158 a visitor surely we can spend our money more wisely to get a bigger bang for southern Nova Scotia.