HALIFAX – A huge jump in people using sharing economy platforms like Airbnb bolstered tourism in Halifax in 2019, as the city recorded its seventh consecutive year of growth.
According to the marketing organization Discover Halifax, the number of nights booked in sharing economy rooms shot up by 33 per cent last year, to a total of 433,894.
Traditional hotels still represented the majority of rooms booked in the city. But the approximately 1.45 million overnight stays in Halifax hotels in 2019 only represented a 3.9 per cent increase from 2018.
Ross Jefferson, the president and CEO of Discover Halifax, says Airbnb and its counterparts have given visitors to the city more options, something that’s particularly important during the height of tourism season.
“We know that there has been some constraint on traditional hotel supply, particularly during peak seasons. So the growth in Airbnb may in part be choice by consumers, but it also may be necessity,” he said.
“We believe that choice for consumers is paramount for that growth to continue, so from that respect the sharing economy is a great thing for Halifax.”
Global Tourism Growth Helps Halifax
Jefferson says the overall increase in the number of rooms booked last year is an indication that Halifax’s tourism industry is in a good spot.
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, the global tourism industry has grown for eight straight years. Jefferson says that, as the hub of Atlantic Canada, Halifax has been benefiting from that trend.
He points to the 2.2 per cent increase in cruise ship passengers last year. He also says that the city’s accessibility by airplane is doing better than ever, despite the fact that the airline industry took a major hit in 2019 when Boeing 737 MAX airplanes were grounded across the world.
Fewer people took planes in Halifax last year thanks to those groundings. Discover Halifax’s data shows a three per cent decrease in airplane use, down to 4,188,443 people using planes.
But Jefferson says airplane access from Halifax has been generally increasing, especially to the U.S., where accessibility grew by 19 per cent in 2019.
“Overall air access from Halifax over the past 5 years has increased significantly, and that has definitely opened up new markets for us,” he says.
Investments Making City More Attractive
Jefferson also believes development has made the city a more attractive place for visitors.
“We think it’s an incredibly exciting time in the tourism industry in the specific things that are going on here in Halifax,” he says. “The investments that have been happening here in Halifax, from both government and private sector, are really adding to the quality of the experience we have.”
He points to the Halifax Convention Centre, development on the city’s waterfront, and new retail options as examples.
“We’ve seen just an explosion of new restaurants and retail establishments that have helped bring more people in,” he says.
Province-wide Tourism Dips in 2019
Despite the fact that the number of overnight stays in Halifax has increased for seven straight years, province-wide tourism numbers lagged in 2019.
Tourism Nova Scotia says the province welcomed 1,247,200 overnight visitors during peak tourism season (between June and September) last year. That’s five per cent less than in 2018.
Visitation by air declined by seven per cent, or 29,600 fewer visitors, compared with the summer of 2018, and visitation by road declined by four per cent, or 33,000 fewer visitors.
The provincial tourism agency says Hurricane Dorian, grounded Boeing airplanes, and the absence of a Yarmouth-to-Maine ferry were all factors in lower numbers.