Manager Madonna Lawrence said the volunteer committee which runs the lighthouse was left hanging when they didn’t receive any Job Creation Partnership (JCP) grants this year. In past years they have received upwards of ten grants for seasonal staff.
They did get five student grants, each for either seven or eight weeks of work.
Rather than close the site altogether, the committee tried to open with students alone. Mrs. Lawrence said it has been a tough go.
On top of regular duties that used to be covered with ten or more workers, the students also attempted to operate the lighthouse’s newly renovated bed and breakfast.
“They try their best but you really need someone there for the full day who can basically help out,” said Mrs. Lawrence.
The lighthouse used to open from early May to late October, and stay open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This year the lighthouse opened on July 2. They hours of operation were to 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“We are trying to do our best to keep this place open but what is seven weeks?” she asked.
Other cutbacks included the cancellation of guided tourists, and the removal of many small artifacts from the lighthouse itself.
Mrs. Lawrence said the organization lost a lot of revenue because of the late opening and early closure. In past years, revenue from admission was put towards expenses at the lighthouse such as power bills, insurance bills, upkeep and the hiring of one staff member as manager.
“In all fairness, we aren’t sure if we’ll be able to open next year,” she said.
The number of paying customers visiting the lighthouse does match last year’s numbers for the same weeks of operation, according to Mrs. Lawrence.
She said if JCP grants aren’t the answer, the province needs a program to help not-for-profit attractions so there are things for tourists to see once they arrive.
The closure will have implication on the local tourism industry, according to those in the business.
Cathy Lomond is manager of Hotel Port aux Basques. As someone working in the tourism industry, she said it is sad to see this attraction closing mid-season.
“It’s sad because this year’s ferry schedule does allow people time to stay in the area and tour around,” she said.
Stella Pittman is manager of St. Christopher’s Hotel and also the Chair of Tourism Southwest and a board member with the Destination Marketing Organization for Western Newfoundland. She said it is difficult to market the area when so much has closed.
Her hotel has a package featuring the Rose Blanche Lighthouse on the province’s tourism website. It includes a night’s stay, breakfast, and passes to the lighthouse. She said she will now be removing it from the website.
“We get a lot of complaints in September about sites closing down,” said Mrs. Pittman. “Its discourage as someone who has worked all her life in the tourism industry.”
She thinks the department of tourism has a role to play in making these sites sustainable.
The Department of Tourism provided a written response to the Gulf News’s request for a comment.
“The Provincial Government is committed to the sustainability of our province’s culture and heritage,” wrote Derrick Dalley, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation.
“Many of the tourist attractions in Newfoundland and Labrador are based on our province’s culture and heritage, and heritage organizations, such as Rose Blanche Lighthouse Inc. sometimes access a variety of support programs available through municipal, provincial and federal programs, in addition to the revenue they generate through admissions, sales and other sources.
‘This year, the Department of Tourism, Culture and Recreation provided $8,870 to Rose Blanche Lighthouse Inc. through the Cultural Economic Development Program (CEDP). Since 2003, CEDP has provided over $52,000 in operational support to assist this group in its efforts to preserve and promote the area’s cultural heritage. CEDP has, in fact, provided $870,970 in operational support to 120 heritage organizations this year.”
Burgeo-La Poile MHA Andrew Parsons said the lighthouse has great volunteers but it can’t rely on volunteers to take the place of paid employees.
“It’s really unfortunate that government seems to have forsaken them,” said Mr. Parsons. “Here we are, a province that tourism is really one of the industries that’s burgeoning and growing but the southwest coast doesn’t seem to be getting the attention that it needs. It’s too bad that the Department of Tourism and the Department of Advanced Education and Skills can’t work together to recognize the potential and see what can be done.”