Since early February, Trout Point Lodge has focused efforts on bringing Nature Air to the area, engaging local, regional, provincial, and federal players to confront the current crisis caused by the absence of ferry service to the region.
At the February 3-5, 2010 Geotourism Summit at the National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington, D.C., Trout Point Lodge owners Vaughn Perret and Charles Leary got to know fellow honouree Alex Khajavi, CEO & Chairman of Costa Rican airline Nature Air. Perret, Leary, and Khavjavi were all there as delegates and finalists in the 2009 Geotourism Challenge, “Power of Place: Sustaining the Future of Destinations.” Nature Air was one of three winners in the worldwide competition, and when Perret & Leary mentioned the collapse of the ferry service and possibility for implementing a new air tour & link between Maine and Nova Scotia, Khajavi jumped on the idea.
Costa Rica has a tourism season opposite that of Atlantic Canada, and the airline has slack demand for its Canadian-built Twin Otter Vistaliner aircraft during the summer months. Nature Air operates more than 70 flights a day in Costa Rica and Panama, and is the world’s first carbon-neutral airline. Leary & Perret had personal experience with Nature Air, having flown between Costa Rica and Panama while operating former Trout Point sister property, the Inn at Coyote Mountain.
“We knew it would be perfect for flights between Maine and Yarmouth,” commented Perret. “Flying in a Twin Otter is an experience in and of itself, and given the scenery of Maine, the Bay of Fundy, and around Yarmouth, this kind of service would draw lots of tourists in addition to those simply filling a transportation need.”
While still in Washington, Leary & Perret contacted David Rankin, Manager of the Yarmouth Airport for assistance. In the weeks since, the 2 owners of Trout Point Lodge have also pro-actively encouraged involvement from the Nova Scotia Department of Tourism Culture & Heritage, the Municipality of the District of Argyle, Minister Percy Paris’ office, the Southwest Shore Development Authority, and MP Greg Kerr’s office.
On Friday, they also contacted the Manager of the Hancock County – Bar Harbor Airport in Maine, and received an enthusiastic response. Bar Harbor receives 3 US Airways flights a day from Boston. Bar Harbor and Yarmouth have historic transportation links for decades. Hundreds of thousands of tourists visit the area, including Acadia National Park, each summer.
“Bob Book from the tourism department has been particularly helpful in pushing things forward,” said Leary. “However, in the wake of the loss of the Cat Ferry service, moving decisively on to new options to face the crisis seems to have fallen overboard.”
“We were glad to read the press release from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency Friday, promising a Team Southwest Nova approach to solving the issues facing us,” said Perret, “However, we have an award-winning entrepreneur in Alex Khajavi, someone willing to come up to Nova Scotia and start a new, sustainably-oriented service of benefit to everyone, and over the past few weeks it’s been very challenging trying to bring all the necessary players together.”
Perret & Leary’s idea is for an experiential air service, eco-friendly, that will showcase the geotourism potential of the region and bring new visitation to Nova Scotia.
Flights (ideally with some sort of on-board guide to what is being flown over) from Bar Harbor up the Maine Coast around the Bay of Fundy, concluding at Yarmouth would be a popular tourist experience. From the Twin Otter, passenger views are excellent because of the unusually large windows and relatively low-altitude flight of the aircraft.
The experience would be as much about the ride as the practical aspect of transportation. The added pluses for American visitors include an international experience in Canada. These air passengers will spend vacation time in the Yarmouth & Acadian Shores area as well. Opportunities for packaging abound, and at least one local tour business operator in Yarmouth has voiced support for the idea.
The Yarmouth area would experience a disproportionate amount of benefits because passengers will fly in without cars. Although some would rent cars, this Bar Harbor service would create demand for local hotel rooms, tours and attractions lost with the Scotia Prince and Cat ferry services.
Short-term subsidies might be required, but ultimately this service would be a viable addition to the region’s tourist offerings and transportation infrastructure.
Perret, Leary, and others hope to have a conference call with Mr. Khajavi this coming week.