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Cumberland County A tourist’s second home?

['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']
['Did You Know That with Alan Walter']

Did You Know with Alan Walter

Who recalls seeing the witty TV commercial of the Maritime couple showing off their pricey Toronto condominium, with its mini-balcony overlooking the rush-hour traffic on the Gardiner Expressway? A story with a purpose, and one familiar to many big-city dwellers who put up with this situation as part of modern life.

Picture a reversal of that scene with a native Toronto couple enjoying their umpteenth stay in our County, taking in a vernissage at the Parrsboro Arts Festival with a local couple they befriended many visits ago, and joining them for an evening show at the Ship’s Company Theatre. It all seems such a stress-free, fulfilling experience to them…one that is becoming all too rare in the place they call home.

Cut to a retired Ottawa couple contemplating the purchase of a recreational property in the Pugwash area, after many visits over the years; having acquired a taste for Jost wines and the fresh seafood from Chase’s Lobster Pound, not to mention brunch at Sheryl’s Bakery in the village. They have come to realise that they have made so many friends and feel so comfortable in the community, it already seems like their second home.

And then we have the regular guest from Montreal raiding the bins at Frenchy’s and picking up supplies for the winter from Deanne Fitzpatrick’s rug hooking studio in Amherst, before bidding adieu to her many friends.

Tourism Nova Scotia also highlights one visitor profile as “authentic experiencers” who “use all of their senses when they explore, and really get to know the places they visit by integrating into the local culture”. Such visitors treat travel as a learning opportunity, absorbing the cultural, craft, and historic interest opportunities in the county. And they cannot help but return home feeling a bond with our communities and envious of their quality of life.

A challenge Cumberland County faces in promoting itself to tourists, is the sheer depth and variety of satisfying adventures it provides that visitors happen upon almost by accident. We are not good at so-called “iconic” attractions that fall into the bucket-list category; Peggy’s Cove – check; Bluenose II second replica – check: Cabot Trail - check. Nor are we interested in developing one -time “experiences” such as dining off the ocean floor at Burntcoat Head, which is clearly an expensive, one-time thing.

We prefer lasting, meaningful encounters to happen with the many faces of our local communities, leading to relationships that bring visitors back on repeat visits, eager to enjoy again that feeling of well-being.

In the meantime, the growth trends in our bigger cities across the land will only continue to widen the quality of life differences in our respective communities. Strong economic arguments are being made by our national government to accelerate our population growth in order to avert a “crisis of underpopulation” that threatens our economic health.

Already, the federal government has increased annual immigration targets from the current 300,00 to 350,00 a year by 2021; a good thing in itself, bringing a much-needed dose of new ideas and energy into our economy. However, this growth also brings with it serious quality of life issues as population densities increase in big-city cores.

Closer to home, the town of Amherst clearly has a major role to play as a cultured, historic, welcoming host for visitors to our county. However, the stock of accommodations is scanty and mainly targeted at the traffic passing through on the highway.

In the town centre we have a few decent B&Bs around the Victoria East area and there may well be some Airbnb accommodations, but not nearly enough of this popular alternative to hotel/motels. Airbnb is increasingly favoured by travellers because of the convenience factor and the ability to get an “on-line” look at what they are renting. It also more conducive to lengthier stays which are “gold” in the tourism industry.

East of Victoria there are many large residences from a past era; a few of which are in good shape while many need a lot of work to bring up to an acceptable Airbnb standard, and I would imagine would need to change hands before much of value was done with them.

In British Columbia, Airbnb will begin next spring to collect and remit an 11% tax for the province, and the revenues raised will go towards creating affordable housing across B.C.

The town of Amherst may want to look at doing the same but use the proceeds to provide tax breaks or grants to owners who are prepared to invest in upgrading these properties to Airbnb standards.

Of course, as properties are improved the town would also benefit from higher property tax proceeds resulting from higher valuations….so it could be an attractive proposition for all concerned…and greatly enhance the town’s ability to be a truly welcoming second home to visitors.

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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