The best made plans

The best made plans

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This is a guest post from Discover Halifax
(Member since 2016)

They say timing is everything. And, in March 2020, as Discover Halifax was preparing to release the region’s first tourism master plan, the timing could not have been any better, and it could not have been any worse.

Of course, March 15, 2020, was when Nova Scotia’s least-wanted guest, COVID-19, arrived in the province. Like many other destinations around the world, the provincial economy came to a grinding halt with the tourism industry being among the hardest hit sectors. Instead of releasing a master plan for sustainable and managed tourism growth, Discover Halifax, the non-profit sales and marketing organization for the region had to hit pause.

“It seems surreal to think back to that time period, for a number of reasons,” said Ross Jefferson, Discover Halifax’s President and CEO. “We had taken a community-first approach to develop the plan and we were excited to share it with our partners, stakeholders and the community. Instead, we had to focus on the immediate response to the pandemic and the recovery effort for the region.”

Michele McKenzie, a business consultant and the principal owner of McKenzie Business Strategies, described it as “the worst time to launch a plan, and the best time to have one.”

As one of the consultants commissioned by Discover Halifax in 2019 to lead the development of the plan, along with Group ATN and Twenty31, McKenzie had long envisioned a plan like this for the region. She has established herself as a tourism expert serving as Deputy Minister for Tourism Nova Scotia, and former President and CEO of the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), now known as Destination Canada.

“For a long time, the need for such an overarching approach to tourism has felt like a missing piece to me,” said McKenzie. It was important to get it right, even if it meant waiting a little longer.

After taking the time to consider the impact of COVID-19 against the overarching goals in the ITMP, the plan was finally presented to Council on February 23, 2021. It was unanimously accepted by Halifax Council with the overall vision to help Halifax become widely recognized as the favourite city in Canada.

“We’re really proud of Halifax’s Integrated Tourism Master Plan, and the work that went into this,” said Jefferson. “We believe part of the reason why the plan held up so well, even when tested by a pandemic, is because we established the right guiding principles early on and never wavered from these.”

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From a business perspective, the master plan’s guiding principles are relatable and transferrable. It provides a solid foundation that unites more than 30 partners in shared values that maps a clear picture of where the destination is going.

Community-first: The plan was developed using a community-first approach. It reflects the values and diversity of the region and recognize the social and environmental impacts of tourism on our communities.

Inclusive Growth: Like a strong-business strategy, the ITMP takes a competitive lens to decision making, and pursues inclusive growth for all 210+ communities in the region.

Consider impacts to the rest of Nova Scotia: In a typical year, Halifax welcomes 5.3 million overnight stays which represents 54 per cent of the provincial tourism. The plan recognizes that decisions made for Halifax as a tourism destination can impact the rest of the Province and the Atlantic region and provide due consideration of these impacts.

Leverage collaboration: The tourism industry includes many different sectors. Developing a master plan had to be done with consideration to the broader tourism ecosystem, including at the local, regional, and national level.

For key partners, like the Halifax Partnership, the guiding principles provided a clear and shared path forward. It meant that the tourism master plan clearly linked to its own work and ambitious goals like helping the municipality grow the region’s GDP to $30 billion by 2031, a goal established in Halifax’s Economic Growth Plan.

“Halifax’s Integrated Tourism Master Plan provides a foundation for jobs and inclusive, sustainable growth, which is vital as we recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19 and plan for the longer-term,” says Wendy Luther, President & CEO, Halifax Partnership. “Collaborating with partners like Discover Halifax to grow our city has never been more important, and we’re looking forward to working closely together to achieve Halifax’s economic goals in the months and years ahead.”

To learn more about Halifax’s five-year ITMP, visit discoverhalifaxdmo.com.

Key findings from Halifax’s ITMP:

• Discover Halifax hosted 32 engagement sessions to develop the ITMP. More than 300 people participated in these sessions, and there were over 250 survey responses.

• Based on the research and consultation there are six key findings that could help Halifax maximize future benefits from tourism, including:

1. Leisure travel demand is expected to recover post-pandemic. Tourism is expected to re-establish itself as one of the fastest growing industries in the world.

2. Halifax has the potential to be widely recognized as the favourite city in Canada.

3. Halifax should maximize its full potential for year-round visitation.

4. If we make Halifax an even better destination for visitors, residents will also benefit.

5. Halifax’s greatest assets are its people, and the unique combination of rural and urban experiences.

6. Discover Halifax stakeholders are eager to partner and collaborate under clear leadership.

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