20 Questions with Jennifer Whelan
Tourism is, according to statistics, a billion dollar industry in the province with regions trying new initiatives aimed at bringing new people and new money into their area. It's no different on the Baie Verte Peninsula.
The Dorset Trail Tourism Association is the organization tagged with the goal of increasing the number of visitors to the region.
"We're trying to revitalize some things and bring new life back into the tourism industry on the peninsula," said Jennifer Whelan. She's the Chairperson of the DTTA, and has been working to make the Peninsula a destination of choice for visitors, not only in summer but in winter as well.
Earlier this month, the group hosted the Peninsula Shiver Soiree which turned out to be another great success, seeing visitors from across the province coming to Green Bay for the activities.
We sat down with Jennifer Whelan to find out more about Tourism on the Baie Verte Peninsula, and one of the people championing the cause.
What is your full name?
Jennifer Jill Whelan
When and where were you born?
You mean I have to tell my age? (laughs) Fine. April 15, 1972 at in Baie Verte, NL.
Where is home today?
Smith's Harbour, NL.
How successful was the Peninsula Shiver Soiree 2014?
It was successful in that we had a lot of support. We had some new sponsors come on this year, and we had some sponsors that upped their support from last year. We also had a lot of people in attendance. The snowmobile races were amazing. It was something we wanted in the first year and it didn't work out, and having the Town of Middle Arm on board now to host the races is great. To me, it was all fabulous.
Where is the best place you've ever been a tourist?
In June of 2013 I had an opportunity to go to Doha, Qatar, with the College of the North Atlantic. That was an amazing experience, for sure.
What are some places you would like to visit?
Well, there are a few places like New York and Las Vegas, but most of all, I do really want to go to Ireland.
Who was your favourite Band/Singer as a teenager?
Hughie Lewis and the News
What's the best movie you've seen in the past six months?
"Nonstop" with Liam Neeson - it was fabulous.
What's the greatest asset relating to tourism the Dorset Trail has to offer?
Well, obviously, the scenery. We have whales, icebergs, and some of the best driving trails in the province.
Yes, that came from a tourist that was visiting here from Germany a few years ago. She said the roads going to all the communities were like hiking trails - they all had spectacular views and scenery - but instead of hiking them, they could drive them, so she called them driving trails. You know, you go on a hike and there is always something wonderful to see when you get there. The same goes for the roads around the Dorset Trail - you go to each town and it's so beautiful when you get there. The coastline, the houses, the coves and shape of the land - it's just beautiful.
What's the biggest disadvantage that could potentially hurt the tourism industry in the region?
Lack of accommodations is a big issue. We find that people have a hard time staying here for long because there are not many places to stay. But not only that, we need people to change their mentality as well.
Some things, we take for granted. We think, it stops at setting up a shop and sell souvenirs, or getting a boat and give a boat tour, and charge someone for a ride - but it's not that. People are coming in and they want to mingle with the people, they want to learn about our culture. They want to go down on the fishing stage and watch you gut a fish. They want to go out in boat, catch a fish, bring it in, clean it, carry it home, cook it and eat it. They want that experience that we take for granted sometimes, but that's what will draw people in the most.
Who inspires you most?
I would have to say my mom, because there's no challenge too difficult that she won't try.
Where should the province be making investments in tourism to see the industry grow?
I think the cost of getting to the island is still the biggest problem we have. They've invested in Marine Atlantic before, but it's still just too much for some people to make the trip. Funding too, to towns, for maintaining things like their walking trails and that. The funding was available for them to put the trails there, but there's never been funding to help them keep it up and keep it maintained and in good shape for people to enjoy.
What's the most rewarding part of your position?
There are great networking and learning opportunities. Last year I went to Georgetown (PEI) for the Georgetown Conference and that alone was incredible. Then I've been able to work closely with Adventure Central and the Department of Tourism; we went on a Best Practices trip to Elliston, and I've been able to take in a couple of GMIST courses; for anyone interested in tourism there are a lot of opportunities out there.
Where will we see DTTA investing its resources next?
It will be in educating people. We have a workshop coming up on March 31-April 1 on packaging. We want to bring people on the peninsula together to work together to create a package that will make people want to come here, and stay here for a few days, rather than just passing through in one day or a couple days.
What keeps you motivated to do what you're doing?
Feedback. It's when I hear someone say they've heard about the area because of, say, what Shaun Majumder is doing in Burlington, or because they heard about the snowmobile races in Middle Arm, or someone they know went to the Outport Museum in La Scie, and because of that they now want to visit the area as well. That's the goal, right there. Make as many people want to come here as possible.
What is the coolest thing you've ever done?
Oh, Dunebashing. I did it in Doha - that's riding around in a land rover out in the sand dunes in the desert, and going down backwards over a hill in the sand. It's the same as if you're on a snowmobile, except it's sand and you're in a buggy.
What would be a dream initiative for DTTA to take on?
I'd like to see five-star accommodations all over the Peninsula - not just one, in one place, but have more than one all over.
What's keeping you from doing it?
Right now we don't have the demand for it. There's no good to say 'build it and they will come,' we need to make sure the people are going to come before we build it. So right now we need to lay the groundwork for tourism in the region and hopefully it will grow to where we need more than one five-star place.
Who is the most famous person you've met?
Probably Jim Cuddy last year at The Gathering in Burlington. He's a really nice guy and really down to earth - it was great.
Where do you see tourism on the Dorset Trail in 10 years?
I see it as being the number one tourism destination in Central Newfoundland. No, scratch that - in Newfoundland.