Tourist numbers varying so far in western Newfoundland

Gary Kean
Published on July 7, 2014

From left, Evan Mercer, Keelan Purchase, Jenn Furlong, Stephanie Payne, Claire Hewlett and Craig Haley perform at Gros Morne Theatre Festival's It's Neddy Norris Night at the Dr. Henry Payne Museum as part of the Cow Head Lobster Festival celebrations.

Submitted photo

The tourist season is getting into full swing, but just how busy it has been at this point depends on who you talk to and what area of the industry they are in.

Of course, one of the main attractions for both out-of-province tourists and people who live here are the icebergs that file down the north and eastern coastline from Labrador.

Paul Alcock operates Northland Discovery Boat Tours in St. Anthony, one of the first places the icebergs arrive once they leave Labrador. The area is also usually rife with whale sightings this time of year.

He can’t call it the best season to date, but the numbers are “definitely good” for his business as it heads into peak season. The 50 or more bergs just off the coastline certainly helps, although plenty of icebergs as far south as the Avalon have increased the locations where icebergs tours are successful this summer.

“Where the icebergs are more spread out, the people are more spread out too,” said Alcock. “It was a bit of a slower start with the weather not being that cooperative and we had lots of pack ice that kept us from getting out. But, we are kicking into high gear now and the numbers are really increasing.”

Alcock has had his boats filled from between three-quarters to full capacity so far this season and has lots of booking for the next two months.

Other tourism operators in the St. Anthony area, said Alcock, have reported a similar, slower than usual start.

“It’s nothing drastic, but it’s just down a little bit, from what I’m hearing,” he said. “Some years, people tend to come earlier, especially if there is a seat sale on or something like that. It’s hard to judge from year to year.”

Down in Woody Point, Jennifer Galliott has been surprised by the continuing busy start to this season.

“Usually, when we do get a spurt of traffic early on, then there is a bit of a slower period for about two weeks and then it starts to pick up again,” said the owner of Galliott Studios on the Woody Point waterfront. “But it’s been pretty steady.”

Most visitors to her shop have been from within the province, but Galliott said the waves of mainland tourists are starting to hit now. She attributed the strong start to one of the colder and snowier winters in recent memory finally being a distant memory.

“It’s been such a crazy long winter for everyone, I think people are just a little stir-crazy and want to get out,” she said.

The annual Writer’s Festival, an event that has been growing in Wood Point by leaps and bounds in recent years, is coming up next month. Galliott expects it to be even bigger again this summer, which is good news for the Woody Point economy.

“I think this is going to be a really busy summer here,” she said. “I’m trying to get a lot done earlier this year, so I can keep up with it.”

Meanwhile, the tales of two bed and breakfasts in St. George’s tell quite different stories.

Bill Vincent owns and operates Henrieta’s Bed and Breakfast, which can accommodate four people. He acknowledges the business is more of a stopover for tourist traffic headed to see icebergs, the Viking site at L’Anse aux Meadows or travelling clear across the island to St. John’s. With changes to the Marine Atlantic ferry schedule, Vincent said business has been a bit slower this year than normal.

“When they arrive on the ferry at 7:30 in morning, most just keep on going across the island,” he said. “And the ferry is too expensive. I think more people are probably flying over.”

Most of the business Henrieta’s does get these days, said Vincent, is from people passing through on all-terrain vehicle journeys. He would like to see the provincial government focus more on enhancing the ATV trail networks, especially working on being able to drive an ATV entirely through Corner Brook on the former railbed.

“I don’t know why they won’t let quads go on the roads in certain designated areas as long as they have insurance and the proper equipment,” said Vincent.

The Palace Inn, a larger bed and breakfast in St. George’s that can accommodate up to 16 people, has been enjoying steady business, according to owner Loretta Foss.

“I’d say the start we’ve had was comparable to our first three years (in operation), maybe a little better,” she said. “It’s going really well and getting better all the time.”

While they do see that same flow of tourists just passing through the area to other destinations, Foss said there are plenty of residents from western Newfoundland who head to The Palace Inn just for a quick getaway.

“The rest of summer seems to be pretty good,” she added. “This month, we have a lot of days we’re booked solid.”

Back on the Northern Peninsula, the Gros Morne Theatre Festival has been off and running since May 31 and now has four of its productions being performed.

“It feels like summer is almost over for us,” joked Gaylene Buckle, Theatre Newfoundland Labrador’s general manager.

The festival is into its 19th year and, so far, the numbers show a slight increase from what they were last year. In particular, the festival has had 2,331 people take in shows so far this year, compared to 2,267 at the same point one year ago.

“Some nights have been up and some down, but overall our numbers are up,” said Buckle. “Anytime you’re up, it’s a good thing.”

The festival has also seen a 10 per cent increase, and counting, in ticket sales for the remainder of the season, which runs into mid-September.

“What we’ve found is that the people who go to the shows early in the season are the residents of the nearby communities like Cow Head and Parsons Pond, plus a few people from the mainland,” said Buckle. “We start to see more people from elsewhere within the province, like Corner Brook or St. John’s, once school is out.”

Buckle figures the solid numbers for the festival are the result of several factors, including its long history, its growing online presence and the good reviews it has enjoyed by word-of-mouth from those who have taken in the shows offered.

Twitter: WS_GaryKean