Newfoundland and Labrador’s historic tourism industry is ripe for a new era: Fisher

By John Fisher

Tourism began in the 1890s, long before Confederation. Visitors at the time were wealthy big game hunters, potential investors and expatriates. While there had been advances in rail and maritime transport, there was a shortage of places to stay; nothing on which to build a tourist industry except remarkable landscapes, endless wilderness and an escape from work and cities.

After Confederation, Joey Smallwood persuaded the Canadian government to invest in tourism. The first director of tourism was appointed in 1952.

Throughout the 1950s, air and sea links to the continent were improved. The gravel roads were paved. Hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts and restaurants have sprung up in cities with airports and a critical mass of commercial activity. In 1997, Cabot 500, including a visit from the Queen, drew thousands of visitors to rural Newfoundland. This themed festival and others ushered in a new era of tourism.


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In 1984, tourism was the third largest employer in Newfoundland and Labrador. In 1997, 69,000 visitors injected $ 51 million into the provincial economy, and the boom in tourism began. In 2019, more than 500,000 visitors spent $ 1.4 billion.

Eighty percent of all tourism spending in the province is made by visitors from mainland Canada, the United States, Europe and Asia. This makes tourism an export industry, generating revenues and taxes that contribute to the costs of health care, education, roads and other services invaluable to the lifestyle of residents of the province.



Now and the future

The provincial government, in partnership with the private sector, has built an economically prosperous tourism juggernaut. Developing tourism is a huge victory for this province – jobs and money. Having said that, it is time to reflect on where tourism is today and where we want it to be in the future.

Obviously, some attractions need substantial investment to improve facilities, interpretation and management. It is a must to meet the expectations of the avid international traveler of the 21st century.

Economy-driven tourist destinations around the world are flattening the uniqueness of the place with overtourism. Venice, Italy, attracts 120,000 visitors every day, including 20 million per year in a city of just 55,000 permanent residents.


Visitors value uniqueness over homogenization – places that are unlike where they came from.


Newfoundland and Labrador’s pristine shores, trails and historic cityscapes are for the most part not suffocated by hotel chains, fast food outlets and the junk of commercial modernity catering to the needs of modernity. huge sprawling crowds of visitors.

However, there are existential threats similar to those of Venice and other destinations. Governments and their private sector tourism partners will put tourism at risk if they embrace the idea that tourism’s primary function is economic.

Tourism is international. Ironically, as a Canadian province whose early history is rooted in international trade, it is ironic that Newfoundland and Labrador’s approach to tourism is steeped in parochialism. MEPs who need votes support local initiatives that are oblivious to the expectations and standards of the international tourism market.


“Newfoundland and Labrador’s pristine shores, trails and historic cityscapes are for the most part not suffocated by hotel chains, fast-food outlets and the junk of modern commercialism that caters to huge, sprawling crowds of visitors, ”writes John Fisher. – SaltWire Network File Photo

Professionalize tourism

As successful as government-run tourism is, it is time to consider cutting the umbilical cord and considering the development of an autonomous, non-governmental, province-wide tourism organization.

The ability to develop progressive policy is essential.

Those who ignore the future become its victims.

Adding to the policy shortcomings of provincial tourism is an army of short-term economic-oriented private sector tourism entrepreneurs, seemingly blind to the consequences that threaten the long-term sustainability of the sector.


John and Peggy Fisher created the Fisher's Loft Inn in Port Rexton.  - SaltWire Network File Photo
John and Peggy Fisher created the Fisher’s Loft Inn in Port Rexton. – SaltWire Network File Photo

A subset of tourism is the growing number of communities vacating second home ownership, either as seasonal vacation homes or as an investment in short-term commercial accommodation, like Airbnb. Property values ​​are skyrocketing out of reach for most local residents. On the plus side, second home owners are spending liberally on renovations and preserving historic cityscapes.

A community with a decreasing number of families loses its character, its heartbeat if you will, turning into a tourist ghetto without soul, without families or children; a place where the school bus is no longer needed. A declining resident population threatens the existence of schools and local health and social services. It is necessary to protect part of the housing stock of the community against ownership of a second home.

Cities and communities are partners and benefit from tourism, and must focus on appearance and usability. A garish parade of neon light signs, fast food franchises, big box stores and parking lots is a lost opportunity. Why not aim for uniqueness and create public spaces with innovative landscaping, trees and art? Visitors value uniqueness over homogenization – places that are unlike where they came from.


The province has launched a campaign encouraging residents of Newfoundland and Labrador to get out and adventure in their own backyards.  - Contributed
The province has launched a campaign encouraging residents of Newfoundland and Labrador to get out and adventure in their own backyards. – Contributed

Tourism in Newfoundland and Labrador is a resounding success. However, why not consider ways to strengthen its development to ensure a safe passage into the future? Here are some questions to consider:

  • Initiate a global search for a tourism CEO, a master’s degree holder in tourism and / or experience in developing a progressive and comprehensive tourism program sensitive to location, culture, location economy and the evolving future of tourism.
  • Develop an autonomous tourism organization in the private sector with a board of directors chosen from among the tourism leaders of the province and others with an international reputation in the field of tourism.
  • Develop a comprehensive, world-renowned graduate course in tourism at MUN addressing cultural, social, economic and environmental concerns in a way that improves the lives of residents and visitors.

The overriding goal as a province could be to convert a tourist, satisfied with the accessible commodification of experiences, into a traveler who explores and discovers transformative and spontaneous moments unknown to guides and the digital world.


John Fisher, along with his wife Peggy Fisher, owns the Fishers’ Loft Inn in Port Rexton. John Fisher is a well-known lawyer and tourism consultant.


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