08 February 2009

Uncommon tourism potential: A vision of hydro towers in a UNESCO World Heritage site

On Friday, the provincial government announced the creation of a new bureaucracy to promote tourism to the province, as if that was the answer to the dwindling return on investment from the current approach.

You can tell a lot about any plan by the way it proposes to measure success.  In this case, the new tourism strategy – Uncommon potential – wants to double the amount of money generated by tourism in the province.  Inflation would pretty much take care of hefty enough chunk of that in the next 11 years so whatever is left can be either explained away when the time comes or simply ignored.

You can tell this is a serious plan:  it has lots of pretty pictures in it, shop-worn jargon by the shovel-full  - “world-class” and “the possibilities are endless”, two great Chuck Fureyisms from his stint as tourism czar - but no indication of how much money it will cost to do all the things listed as the various action items.

One would have to read the release to appreciate, as well, that the strategy doesn’t really get at one of the current problems, namely the fact that more than half the $500 million generated by “tourism” right at the moment doesn’t come from people travelling into the place.  It comes from locals.

Odd, though, that there is no mention in this beautiful looking document of the tourism potential of high voltage direct current hydro-electric transmissions lines.  There’s lots about pristine wilderness, natural beauty, authentic experiences and a raft of other buzzwords but nothing about giant steel girders supporting buzzing electricity cables.

Odd, you see, because that’s exactly what the provincial government’s energy corporation is planning to string from Labrador down to the Avalon peninsula to meet a demand that can be met with other sources of power.

The energy company plans to run the lines, in one part at least, through Gros Morne National Park.  That would be the UNESCO world heritage site. Now there are already lines in the park that were installed long before the park was established in 1987. 

But you’d think that a company owned by the provincial government might be looking at ways of getting out of the park altogether rather than planning on increasing the power lines in a truly beautiful place.