CEO of Destination St. John’s says visitors come for ‘uncommon’ experience
Cathy Duke, chief executive officer of Destination St. John’s, addresses the weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of St. John’s at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland Thursday afternoon, focusing on tourist visitation trends and the ongoing economic activities in the capital city region. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
While there are many reasons why tourists flock to this province, the CEO of Destination St. John’s says one of the main reasons people come is because the place is exotic and offers “uncommon experiences” people can’t find anywhere else.
Cathy Duke was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club of St. John’s luncheon Thursday.
“The tourism industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is growing exponentially,” she told club members. “It’s a very hot destination.”
Duke said in 2010, more than 500,000 non-residents visited the province, about as many people who live here full-time.
She said even when the economy went south in 2009, tourism was still up by about one per cent over the previous year in Newfoundland and Labrador.
During the same time, Duke said, Quebec saw its tourism numbers drop by 20 per cent. She said tourism brings in about $400 million a year into the local economy and Duke largely credited provincial tourism ads for bolstering the numbers.
Duke said people come here for a genuine experience which is off the beaten path — where you can expect the unexpected.
And they come to have close encounters with nature, culture and the unique characters who live here.
Duke said the province has stopped trying to be Disney World north, and is instead showcasing the reality of the place.
Other provinces are following Newfoundland and Labrador’s lead, trying to mimic its successful advertising campaign, she said.
Duke noted this province’s tourism ads have won more than 130 awards. While the provincial ads largely focus on rural areas, it’s the job of Destination St. John’s to sell the city, and that’s why it’s produced its own ads.
“We do want to feature nature and culture and people but we also want our visitors to understand that we have a very vibrant city,” she said.
Duke said while we may be the oldest city in North America, St. John’s also has a new found swagger.
She said tourists want to experience the arts and music, proximity to the ocean, fine dining, and unparalleled story telling they get from local shop owners, cab drivers or just people they run into.
And on the city’s doorsteps are whales, icebergs and internationally famous hiking trails.
Some of Destination St. John’s staff members travel around North America each year to trade shows, promoting what the city has to offer, she said.
“We measure our success by the number of hotel rooms that are sold in the city,” said Duke.
In 2011, Duke said, 22,705 delegates came to St John’s for conventions, and 45,000 hotel rooms were rented over the year.