What if tourists visit, well, just because?

The CBC is reporting that [t]ourism numbers down again on Prince Edward Island this summer. And like last year, the air is thick with speculation as to why.

But here’s a thought: what if tourists visit Prince Edward Island “just because.” What if they don’t pay attention to advertising or marketing or the weather. What if it’s not about “effective golf packaging” or “powerful family-themed vacation opportunities?” What if it’s not about the 1-800 number or the website or the ease of the bridge or the romance of the ferry?

What if tourism on Prince Edward Island is mostly just the result of a whole bunch of irrational, unpredictable, largely non-influencable decisions? And so sometimes lots of people come, and sometimes not so many.

Or what if the more we try to make people visit, the less likely they are to do so.

I’ve no evidence to suggest that either of these theories is correct. But it seems to me that we’re shoveling a lot of money into tourism marketing and advertising and packaging based on a largely untestable assumption that it has a chance of actually working.

So here’s my idea: let’s take a year off. Shut off the website. Stop the TV commercials. Pull the colour supplements from the Toronto Star. Cancel the subsidized rock concerts and golf tournaments.

And see what happens.

Maybe people would visit anyway. Just because.


Dave's picture
Dave on July 26, 2005 - 18:36 Permalink

I think you might be right, to some extent.

Having worked in tourism, I found that most people, when asked why they visited, didn’t really mention a tourist destination (with the exception of the japanese, who flock for Anne); they’d mention things like the people, the climate, the natural beauty.

We’ve become so obsessed with sucking every dollar from tourists that we might’ve missed out on why they’re actually coming here. Golf is something they do while they’re here but not necessarily why they come.

This post is indeed food for thought.

Kevin O's picture
Kevin O on July 27, 2005 - 14:59 Permalink

Milton Acorn seemed to understand tourism as well as any of the experts but came at it from a completely differnet approach. He’s reputed to have said (or perhaps written): “Tourist *industry*. What, do we put them in cans?”

This year Tourism sent out a number of packages (including some multi-media stuff involving golf courses, beaches, and a few other interest points) to a few thousand homes. The distribution was based on those who expressed an interest in visiting PEI. They are intending a follow-up with the receipients to see if they actually came to PEI what they did here (how much $$$.$$ spent seems the focus).

The results of their survey will be interesting — though statistically skewed based on recepient criteria. Helpful as their statistics may be I think Milton might think of it as steam from the processing line.

Lee's picture
Lee on July 28, 2005 - 17:27 Permalink

As both a tourist, and a former resident (I lived on PEI for 8 months a few years back) — the biggest thing that has ever stopped me from revisiting is the whole ‘people from ‘away’ are evil’ attitude from some islanders.

When I lived there, I wasn’t in the thick of it (I was up in Crapaud), so I didn’t encounter it as much as I heard from others, but I did notice it a fair bit when I visited Charlottetown. I was often surprised to hear stories of people from other parts of Canada moving to PEI, buying a business, then being bankrupted because people stayed away from them because they wern’t born on PEI.

Personally, I love PEI and all it’s beauty — and if it was down to that alone, I’d move back there tomorrow. But there is always that thought in the back of my mind that asks whether I would ever be accepted fully — would I always be given funny looks whenever I went grocery shopping etc (I accept that with a British accent I would get some strange looks, but would prefer that to be followed with a smile, rather than a look of disgust).

The more I have thought about relocating back there over the years, and the more I have talked with people, the more apparent it has become that this view is quite widely known — PEI is considered a place where outsiders arn’t accepted.

I have heard various reasons for this attitude, usually along the lines of people don’t want outsiders buying up property and raising the prices for islanders — and I accept that as a fair point. What strikes me though is that PEI isn’t a place people will go to find work, so anyone moving there either has a view of buying or starting a business, or retiring — and I can’t really see any negatives in either of those scenarios.

I have veered away from the tourism aspect here, but it comes back to the same point — peoples perception of the island and it’s people. I’m convinced, with as many people as I have spoken to, that has / is having an impact on why visitor numbers are down.