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ALAN WALTER: Rating Amherst as an attractive destination


How does Amherst stack up as an attractive “destination” for desirable new residents, well-informed business investors, and discriminating tourists? All three of which can contribute to healthy economic development and job creation in our community.

Thinking of a community as a destination is gaining favour as a way for community planners to assess the strengths and weaknesses of their towns. It encourages them to look objectively at their communities as if they were outsiders having other candidate destinations to choose from. It’s part of a process called “destination development”.
As to how Amherst would score in the above three areas, let’s begin with our strong suit, namely the attraction to new residents of the enviable lifestyle we enjoy. In the recent MoneySense magazine ranking of over 400 communities in Canada as the best places to live, we scored well for home affordability, health care and education accessibility.
We can also safely say that the overall quality of life we enjoy in our community is superior to anything larger city life can provide, with a feeling of well-being that comes with making Amherst our home.
Of course, for our invitation to “#seewhyweloveit” to be effective, we must rely on visitors spreading the word and development of a compelling on-line narrative in words and pictures.
As for our attractiveness as a destination for increased business investment and job creation, it is clearly a work in progress, but with good potential.
Opportunities are being explored in the town and the surrounding county for economic development in several green energy sectors, and agriculture and food production, although it is recognised that it will take time for these expectations to mature.
Recent moves to create the Cumberland Business Connector unit, and the plan to hire a dedicated business development officer for the town, show a determination to improve our economic performance.
We are also fortunate that the town is blessed with a vibrant NSCC campus turning out a job-ready, highly skilled work force, who for the most part would like nothing better than to find steady, well-paid employment close to home.
Also, our support for Syrian and other refugee families shows an openness to new cultures and fresh ideas, that gets noticed by prospective investors and employers.
As for Amherst being viewed as an attractive tourist destination, this is where there is most work to do if we think it would be of benefit to the town.
Most potential visitors glean their information on likely destinations from on-line sources and word of mouth. Unfortunately, we have minimal presence online and we could use more tourist activity to spread the word that our town would be worth a visit.
A key indicator in the “destination” stakes is a community’s presence on TripAdvisor, the largest travel web-site in the world; in particular, potential visitors look at the number of listings for “things to do” in a given location.
In the case of Lunenburg, a popular destination one third our size, thirty-eight “things to do” are listed along with three thousand reviews submitted by recent visitors. This compares to Amherst’s thirteen things to do producing just one hundred and thirty-five reviews.
It’s no surprise that of the annual 1.2 million visitors entering our province via the Amherst entry point, few of them feature our town as a destination in their travel plans, other than a convenient pit-stop before continuing on to their chosen destinations.
Of course, our attractiveness as a destination need not be limited by the number of things to do in our town. Much needed profile and appeal would be gained by exploiting the town’s image as a cultured, historic destination and a welcoming host for visitors to our surrounding county, which has scores of appealing things to do.
This would of course require close collaboration between the town and county when it comes to branding, “product” enhancement and on-line marketing and promotion; and I gather that such work is already being explored between the two.

Alan Walter is a retired professional engineer living in Oxford. He was born in Wales and
worked in Halifax. He spends much of his time in Oxford, where he operates a small farm. He can be reached at alanwalter@eastlink.ca.
 

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