By Dr. Adam Fenech, University of Prince Edward Island
There were reports last week that tourism on Prince Edward Island has been down for some operators during the month of July. This decrease has been attributed to inflation, problems with the ferry boat, and back-to-back natural disasters in Nova Scotia, with wildfires in June and flooding in July.
Although I may be a bit biased being a trained climatologist, I attribute our tourism woes to the weather. Summer tourists like to visit when the sun is shining and there is not a trace of precipitation to be seen. This hotter and drier weather has been shown scientifically to be the preferred weather conditions for outdoor recreation such as hiking, biking or playing golf, and also for visiting Prince Edward Island’s iconic beaches – arguably the best in the world.
In fact, Brenda Jones and Daniel Scott from the University of Waterloo have used regression analysis on the number of rounds of golf played at a Burlington, Ontario golf course to determine that outdoor recreators prefer average daily temperatures that are not too cold (above 18 degrees Celsius) yet not too hot (below 28 degrees Celsius). And precipitation reduces the number of the rounds of golf played by about 20 percent when the daily rainfall is between 0.1 and 2.5 millimetres, by about 35 percent when the daily rainfall is between 2.6 and 5.0 millimetres, and by 100 percent if the daily rainfall is above 10 millimetres. When it rains heavily above 20 millimetres in a day, no rounds of golf are played the following day either, presumably because the course is too wet.
When we examine the total rainfall records for the month of July this year of 155 millimetres, we can see that it is more than double the climate normal of 74 millimetres for this month. And August will not be much better. It is halfway through the month of August and we have already seen three rainfall events greater than 20 millimetres (August 5, 9 and 11).
So why was this past July wetter than normal. Look no further than the El Niño event which occurs when surface waters in parts of the Pacific Ocean warm and push east toward the west coast of the Americas, causing changes in the jet stream across North America. That means above normal rainfall for eastern Canada.
The above average rainfall certainly has a role to play in last-minute tourist bookings in particular, which seem to be down for the month of July. International travellers seem to be coming back, but regional tourism appears to have dropped. That has a big impact on the overall tourism numbers for Prince Edward Island because about 60 per cent of Prince Edward Island’s tourism market is from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Perhaps before blaming inflation, problems with the ferry boat, or natural disasters in Nova Scotia for lower than expected tourist numbers, we should look to the weather. Perhaps a Tourism Weather Index specific to Prince Edward Island could be developed that could help us understand the influence of temperature and rainfall on the number of summer tourists visiting Prince Edward Island. We could report such a PEI Tourism Weather Index weekly to keep track of the weather’s influence on tourists coming to Prince Edward Island.