new Brunswick tourism hartland bridge drive through attractions highway covered bridge

Time to Ditch the Drive Through Reputation

I completely understand how New Brunswick came to be called the drive thru province. I’ve driven through many times, including the past two weekends. The Trans-Canada Highway cuts through this province in a way that hides almost everything New Brunswick has to offer – and we’re not doing enough to get people off the road and into the communities where the personality of the province can shine.

Driving through Ontario and Quebec, there are constant highway signs that highlight art galleries, cheese factories, and small businesses. It wasn’t the big attractions that were calling to us, but the smaller ones. When we drove through New Brunswick, the only pull we felt like that was in Hartland; we stopped to tour the Covered Bridge Potato Chip Factory then went to see the world’s longest covered bridge. There’s so much more to explore in this province, and I’m hopeful both those who live here and those who visit will soon be more aware of all that New Brunswick has to offer.

In late 2017, the province launched what it called the “first new comprehensive tourism strategy since the 1990s.” The plan includes a goal of increasing visitor spending to $2 billion by 2025; the current spending is estimated at $1.3 billion. It acknowledges that our “visitation numbers have been somewhat flat in the past few years” and it’s time to entice the 14 million people who live within a one-day drive of our province to come visit.

The strategy announcement came with promises to be “bold and different” and to build on private investment in products and experiences that are capturing people’s imaginations and spending money. It also points to the value in convincing people who come to stay just a little longer, provide them with just a few more things on which to spend their money. More visitors are needed, but we can also focus on increasing the economic impact of those who come – and those who already live here.

The province’s plan also focuses on a key message that I’ve shared in this column again and again – we need to create “proud ambassadors of the province” by educating and motivating our own residents. WE are the best publicity this province can achieve. Building pride of place within ourselves and our children will ensure that New Brunswick’s natural talents and treasures shine. As the strategy states: “When New Brunswickers know, understand, and cheer for their own province, it is contagious.”

I’ve noticed a shift in New Brunswick’s tourism-related marketing lately. There’s a lot more nightlife mixed in with the nature, more breath-taking vistas and calls to enjoy the scenic route, and much more water than trees. But there is still a major missing element for me: the family vacation.

We’re not a camping family, so I don’t see us reflected in New Brunswick’s current marketing. I’d suggest that families are a key demographic when you think about who is looking for driving-distance vacations; as much as a hot day packed into the van with five people isn’t my favourite activity, it’s certainly much more affordable than five airline tickets.

Families are also a key demographic for that ‘spend a little more time and a little more money’ goal set out in the provincial strategy. A lot of attention is focused online these days on courting millennials; it’s obvious in the great content that Tourism New Brunswick has been creating. But 82% of consumer spending is done by the rest of the population, those over the age of 35. Many of those consumers are parents. So let’s keep this momentum of showcasing our province in new ways and focus on families next.

Here’s a great example of how to combine today’s love of video and showcase the family vibe of NB – The Wilson Family of Fredericton recently documented a roadtrip in the province as part of a partnership with Chevrolet. You can find lots more awesome parenting content on their YouTube channel. Check it out!

 

A version of this post appeared originally in the Times & Transcript. Click here for more of Jenna Morton’s column, She Said.

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