Last year, the Viking Trail Tourism Association (VTTA) set a record with numbers up 15 per cent from the previous season. And now, once again, it’s looking like the numbers will either be on par with or “above and beyond” what they were the previous year.
The Viking Trail route runs from Deer Lake to L’Anse aux Meadows and down around to Englee. It includes such tourism attractions as Gros Morne National Park, the L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site, the Port au Choix National Historic Site and the French Shore Interpretation Centre in Conche.
Still in the middle of the tourism season, the numbers aren’t final yet but they’re looking at another possible 15 per cent increase again this year for most sites.
Andre Myers, business manager with the VTTA, attributes the increases to their own additional marketing efforts as well as the promotion provided by the provincial government.
“They’re award-winning tourism ads for a reason, they’re spectacular,” he said. “The collective efforts of ourselves, other partners, and Newfoundland and Labrador Tourism – having those collective efforts plays into it.”
He believes that the promotion of Canada 150, which includes a free park pass for visitors, has played a small role in attracting visitors from outside the province. He notes it’s an expense for people just to travel here.
“They’re not making, in lots of cases, a very expensive trip to Newfoundland just because they have free passes to Parks Canada,” he said.
But the Viking Trail is also seeing more visitors from other parts of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Particularly, Myers says, tourists from St. John’s are increasingly starting to explore their own “backyard” in western Newfoundland. Based on the information they collect, in fact, St. John’s is one of the major Canadian cities to visit the Gros Morne National Park and L’Anse aux Meadows.
The VTTA are optimistic about the future of tourism in the area. Myers expects continuous growth over the next five years. He says they are hoping to continue to see a 10 to 15 per cent increase in visitation each year over that period.
This means continuing to work together with their partners to promote the destinations along the Viking Trail.
But this also begs the question of how to accommodate an increasing number of visitors.
According to Myers, this means upgrading accommodations, increasing their capacity by adding new hotels, restaurants, more rooms to hotels, more bed and breakfasts and etcetera.
They are already taking steps in this direction. For instance, their partner, Grenfell Hotel and Suites in St. Anthony, has recently been upgraded to a four-star hotel.
Furthermore, they are looking at expanding the season into the spring, fall, and the winter.
In recent years, they’ve been seeing more visitors in June and September, in addition to the tourism season’s prime months of July and August. Now, their season begins June 1 and doesn’t end until early October.
“We’re telling people you don’t have to come in July and August, come in June and experience the things we’re offering and come in September and experience different things in the fall,” said Myers. “All our sites are still open.”
And they see the potential of expanding the season to start in April and continue deeper into October and even into the winter months.
Businesses are already offering small-scale winter tourism activities and the provincial government has started promoting winter tourism in their advertisements, Myers points out.
With many local hotels still open through the winter, there’s an opportunity to increase their business.
“We’re getting it on a small scale right now but there’s huge potential there,” said Myers.
With the continued growth this year and all these plans, the future looks bright for tourism on the Viking Trail.