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Longtime tourism proponent Dave LeDrew believes regional plan should include new information centre in Corner Brook

Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons speaks at a press conference announcing funding for a regional tourism strategy in the city Thursday.
Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons speaks at a press conference announcing funding for a regional tourism strategy in the city Thursday. - Gary Kean

Eighteen years ago, Dave LeDrew’s business partner was interviewed for a story about how most tourists seem to pass on by Corner Brook when they visit western Newfoundland.

It was a long-standing problem even way back then.

In that June 2000 story, Michel Levasseur — who owns Le Carrefour Atlantic Emporium in Halifax, a souvenir shop similar to LeDrew’s Newfoundland Emporium in Corner Brook — said more needs to be done on the Trans-Canada Highway to convince tourists to further explore Corner Brook and the scenic Bay of Islands.

On Thursday, government officials and folks involved in the tourism sector crammed into the Newfoundland Emporium for an announcement of $90,000 in funding to develop a strategy that would try to lure tourists to spend more time and money in the Bay of Islands and Lower Humber Valley region.

It’s something that LeDrew obviously feels is long overdue.

“This is something that should have happened 50 years ago,” he said outside his store after the announcement was made.

LeDrew said businesses began really missing tourism dollars when the Trans-Canada Highway was re-routed past Corner Brook nearly 30 years ago. The new highway provides dramatic views of Corner Brook and the Humber Arm stretching off into the Blow-Me-Down Mountains in the distance, but there has never been much else to give travelers a reason to stop, let alone turn off and take a closer look at what the area has to offer.

“You’re gone past Corner Brook before you know how to get down there,” said LeDrew.

Corner Brook’s visitor information centre is still located on Confederation Drive, which used to be the Trans-Canada Highway before it was upgraded. LeDrew believes a new centre with an attractive design and located with a full view of the city and its Bay of Islands backdrop has to be near the top of any results coming from this strategic plan process about to be embarked on.

Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons promised this plan would not result in another study that would be left to collect dust on a shelf after it is completed.

“For far too long, the City of Corner Brook has ignored the potential of tourism as an important economic development tool,” said Parsons. “We’ve taken tourism for granted. We thought ourselves as content to provide provisioning for visitors and tour operators on their way to other destinations like Gros Morne.”

The mayor noted that making this plan work will require input from municipalities and the tourism industry from throughout the entire region.

Details of the strategic plan

The three levels of government are going to spend $90,000 to develop a tourism brand for the Corner Brook-Bay of Islands-Lower Humber Valley region under the Strategic Tourism for Areas and Regions (STAR) program.

Half of the money will be provided by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, while the City of Corner Brook is contributing $23,750 and the provincial government is kicking in the remaining $21,250.

The project will involve developing a working committee consisting of regional stakeholders that will work with a consultant certified to deliver the program over a period of 12 to 18 months.

The following key outcomes are to be met under the STAR program:

- A regional tourism baseline, including an inventory of tourism assets and an assessment of the status of tourism in the region.

- A measurable strategic regional tourism plan with actionable recommendations for destination development over the next three to five years.

- A network of leaders and committed stakeholders to move the tourism process forward beyond the STAR plan development period.

- Increased knowledge to create an authentic experiential tourism experience and products where success can be measured over time for use by regional tourism stakeholders.

- A bank of training tools and resources to build capacity in the region.

- Performance measures to monitor and measure the success of the plan.

- Identification of appropriate and adequate funding sources to sustain actions to achieve long-term plan goals.

Source: City of Corner Brook

What else was said:

“There’s no attraction here people need to mark off their bucket list. You need that.”

- Dave LeDrew, owner of the Newfoundland Emporium on the need for more attractions in the Bay of Islands area

“Any governing authority or tourism operator not willing to tackle things with a regional approach will do so at their own peril. Tourism is one of those perfect areas that demands regional cooperation.”

- Steady Brook town councillor Matt Wells on the regional scope of the strategic plan.

“Without some sort of high-profile, formal designation, people are just going to say that a lot of people can claim to be nice, great and beautiful. With that sort of platform, we can all work together to promote the region.”

- Paul Wylezol, proponent of the Cabox aspiring global geopark in the Bay of Islands, of the importance of having some sort of brand to bring to the tourism market.

“If you like Gros Morne, you’re going to love the Bay of Islands. It’s all the same spot.”

- Corner Brook Mayor Jim Parsons

“When you consider the incredible beauty and the power of entrepreneurship here in Corner Brook, the Bay of Islands and the Humber Valley, we have just as much here at home to be able to capitalize on.”

- Fisheries and Land Resources Minister Gerry Byrne, he Liberal legislature member for Corner Brook, on the region’s untapped tourism potential.

“Before they come here, 92 per cent of people have their trip all planned. So, let’s make sure we have a plan that they make sure the beautiful Bay of Islands is part of their plans.”

- Gudie Hutchings, Liberal Commons member for Long Range Mountains, on the importance of communicating the region’s allure to tourists long before they leave their homes.

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