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November 16, 2010

Of ministerial passion for tourism…

Madame Nicole Ménard Ministre

In each of our e-letters, we proudly showcase an individual as passionate about cruiseshipping as he or she is about Québec’s legendary Saint Lawrence River.  In so doing, we seek to open a window of opportunity and allow you to appreciate for yourself the magic associated with this imposing waterway.  This month, we have the distinguished honour of sharing with you the substance of an interview with Nicole Ménard, Minister of Tourism for Québec and Minister responsible for Québec’s Montérégie region.  

Ms Ménard, how long have you served in the capacity of Minister of Tourism?
I have had the privilege of serving in this capacity since December 2008, following the provincial election in Québec which returned the Liberal Party to office.   In addition to my duties as Minister of Tourism, I am also the minister responsible for Québec's Montérégie region which extends over an area to the south and west of the Island of Montréal. 

Could you tell readers a little about your career prior to acceptance of the tourism portfolio?
Well, I worked for many years in the banking sector.  When I departed the sector in 2007, I was a Vice President with BMO Bank of Montréal. Following a lengthy career in banking and considerable involvement at the community level, I decided to take the plunge into politics.  When I was first elected, I was appointed to the post of Parliamentary Assistant to Raymond Bachand who enjoyed combined duties as Minister of Economic Development, Innovation and Exports, as well as Minister of Tourism and Minister responsible for the Greater Montréal Area.   From the outset in 2007, I involved myself in files and issues relating to the tourism industry.

What fascinates you about your work?
First off, I must admit that I love to travel and long before accepting my current portfolio, I had travelled to just about every region of the province.  My spouse and I love nothing more than a weekend getaway.  We are always open to setting out and discovering the treasures of a particular region of the province.  And we have many a favourite when it comes to quaint country inns and exceptional eateries featuring the finest of Québec fare.

Hence I am naturally passionate about tourism in Québec! I have challenged myself to do everything I can to ensure that tourism takes its rightful seat at the table.   And I believe very firmly that tourism is an important driver of regional economic development.  Unfortunately, from what I have observed to date, tourism is all too often regarded as a strictly holiday-oriented industry.   It is important that we alter this perception for the tourism sector is a creator of wealth.  

How important is international cruiseshipping in terms of Québec’s overall tourism supply?
Like in other regions of the world, this sector continues to grow by leaps and bounds in Québec.  Indeed, the number of cruiseshippers travelling to Québec has risen steadily in recent years, even during the recent economic downturn.   Québec remains a young destination for this high-growth industry. Hence our interest in tapping into this sector and taking action as required. 

A five-year budget allowance of $52.5 million was announced in 2008. This amount is over and above local investments made by the six new ports of call and their surrounding communities.  We are therefore talking of total investment of the order of $156 million over five years.  You will appreciate that efforts of this magnitude contribute handsomely to regional economic development in Québec. It is also important to bear in mind that this industry generates substantial economic spinoffs: 1000 direct jobs and over $80 million in 2009.

To these figures, one must also factor in the extension of the summer tourism season, since cruiseshippers tend to flock to our shores in September and October when autumn colours are at their magnificent best.  This influx of post-peak tourists is doubly important for our regions and their local economies. We are extremely proud of results achieved, especially the 33% rise in the number of cruiseship passengers from 2008 to 2009.  For 2010, we expect results consistent with progress to date.
How do you view the future of cruiseshipping development in Québec in the medium and longer terms?
Our strategies and budget allowances have been set through to 2013. We shall subsequently assess results achieved and evaluate the situation in cooperation with the communities involved and the Saint Lawrence Cruise Association.   Based on needs perceived going forward, it is possible that efforts will be focused at the level of regional tourism supply.   It is particularly interesting for the communities to see new attractions developed as a result of added investment, especially since these attractions are designed to appeal to all manner of audiences, including locals.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting a Senior Vice President with Carnival Corporation at Saguenay who had nothing but positive things to say about the destination.   In his opinion, Québec and the Saint Lawrence ports of call have begun to reap the benefits of increased exposure.   Indeed, no less than 15% of cruiseshippers return to Québec to visit following their cruiseshipping experience on our shores.   We thus have everything to gain from pursuing our efforts in this area.   

In the longer term, it is possible that new ports of call could be added… If growth can be sustained and other communities are interesting in investing together with us, we should be pleased to reassess the situation going forward!

Could you tell readers a little about the level of cooperation between the Ministry of Tourism and the Saint Lawrence Cruise Association?
The Saint Lawrence Cruise Association complements the team at Tourism Québec.  Cooperation is well coordinated and the roles of each body are well defined.   SLCA is mainly active with cruise lines to make known facilities and attributes.  The team at Tourism Québec intervenes to promote the destination and to sustain the development of infrastructure in the various regions.

How does this bipartisan cooperation benefit the Ministry of Tourism?
I am extremely pleased to be able to count upon the expertise of SLCA in the international cruise sector.  SLCA is without a doubt our principal partner for the cruiseshipping sector and I proudly announced this past summer a contribution made to SLCA to support the latter’s efforts in developing international markets.
I must underscore that we worked very closely with SLCA when drawing up our five-year development strategy announced in 2008. At both the ministry and association levels, we rely on teams of passionate individuals who together are working wonders.  

In your opinion, what are Québec’s most important attributes for cruiseshippers?
The Saint Lawrence River is a one-of-kind ecosystem with an abundance of remarkable, natural sites.  The breadth of the river enables passengers to appreciate the magnificent countryscapes as they journey along the fabled waterway. 

I am convinced that the province boasts a wealth of important attributes, including numerous historic sites at Montréal, Trois-Rivières and Québec.  The combination of Québec culture and the French language make for a decidedly intriguing change of scenery for international visitors.   Québec is a slice of Europe set against a North American backdrop which considerably enhances our destination’s overall appeal.

In your opinion, can Québec and the Saint Lawrence position themselves favourably given strong international competition from destinations in Europe, Alaska, etc.?
We must be relentless in our efforts to showcase the attributes of our picturesque ports of call.   Granted, competition is fierce, but Québec boasts attributes of international renown such as Montréal’s Jazz Festival, the summer festival in the provincial capital, New France festivities, etc.  We must continue to underscore these surefire drawing cards in an effort to convince organizers to boost the number of Québec-based programs.   I am confident in our ability to succeed given the wealth of attributes that our destination is poised to offer visitors.

Have you yourself had the opportunity to cruise the Saint Lawrence?  
Indeed I have. I sailed the Saint Lawrence from Montréal to the Magdalen Islands.   I loved the experience and first-hand opportunity to appreciate the boundless mélange of Québec culture and nature at its finest. I regularly crisscross the province for both work and pleasure, and delight in discovering new aspects of each region with each successive visit.  We have a great deal to offer and I invite all visitors to come discover Québec’s wealth of attributes.

Minister Ménard, I thank you heartily for the time taken to convey to readers your passion for Québec and the Saint Lawrence ports of call.

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