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Adam Langley needs all hands on deck for East Coast marine tourism success

When Adam Langley was a little boy growing up on the shores of the Northumberland Strait in Nova Scotia, his first seafaring vessel was a rowboat he christened Bull Frog. His father got it in a trade for legal work, with a client who couldn’t pay his bill.

The little skiff was where he got his sea legs, but there was already salt water in Langley’s veins. He comes from a family of ship builders, skilled sailors, and keepers of marine history. But he’s charting a new course for what could be a new era for tourism in Atlantic Canada. He and wife Amanda recently launched Superyacht East Coast.

Langley’s vision is to create a network of East Coast marine destinations. It’s a vastly overlooked aspect of the tourism economy, which he finds ironic since the region has more than 43,000 kilometres of coastline. While his business plan is to lure more superyacht traffic to the Atlantic provinces, his real passion is found in bringing people together to think differently about infrastructure and opportunities in waterfront communities.

Baddeck waterfront

Stronger network needed

Working with Waterfront Development and Develop Nova Scotia in Halifax from 2009 to 2021, Langley saw a huge opportunity to attract more people from the water, especially from outside the country.

“I could see the economic impact,” says Langley, adding that he enjoyed working for the province, but felt he could have greater impact if he moved to the private sector and built the relationships that he felt were crucial.

“There was a lack of coordination for the bigger picture,” he says. “Without coordination, you will end up with an OK product, but not a great one … If we really want to expose Nova Scotia and the rest of the region to a global audience, we need a stronger network.”

So, he took the leap and started A. Langley Developments. From that company evolved Superyacht East Coast, although Langley doesn’t like that term. “It’s an industry designation for boats over 80 feet (24 metres) but it can sound a little obnoxious,” he says.

In less than a year after his jump into the private sector, the Langleys have built a team of regional partnerships with a unified vision to promote the East Coast of Canada and the northeastern US as a premier yachting destination. Adam’s passion for growing the ocean economy has landed him an additional role. In February, the Independent Marine Ports of Atlantic Canada Association announced Langley as its new executive director. He says the role strategically connects with his other projects.

Partners, not competitors     

From his office in Sydney, NS, Terry Smith, executive director of Destination Cape Breton, is keen on more collaboration with other destination marketing organizations in Atlantic Canada. He says that many people don’t understand the potential of marine tourism. Langley has connected six organizations to marine tourism for the region.

“We are not competitors,” says Smith. “When people come to visit, they often come to visit the whole area, so we need to do more in terms of collaborating.”

South of the border and 180 nautical miles away from Yarmouth, NS, marina General Manager Vanessa Pike is also wading into new partnership with the Langleys’ superyacht mission. She’s general manager of Fore Points Marina in Portland, Me., a diversified marina that accommodates yachts up to 180-metres and, from May until the end of October, hosts about 100 local seasonal boaters.

“It makes sense to partner with Adam,” says Pike, who plans to tag team with the Langleys at several American boat shows this spring to showcase all the East Coast offers. “Maine is becoming a new yachting destination. If we want to see this grow, then a partnership with the work being done in Canada only makes sense. If I promote Canada, the boats are going to come here first, cruise up to Eastern Canada, have an amazing experience, stop here again on their way back down the coast.”

Pike adds that the Maine-Atlantic Canada route isn’t new, but promoters must do more to get the word out and create destination packages.

Following Archimedes

Christopher Walsh is captain of the Archimedes, a 67-metre superyacht that spent eight weeks cruising the East Coast last summer. The yacht created a buzz with people on shore, who flocked to the wharves and beaches for a closer look. Rumour swirled about who might be on board. An American businessperson owns the vessel, one of the most well-travelled superyachts in the world. Walsh says that many yachts its size travel 15,000 to 22,000 kilometres a year, and the Archimedes easily logs more than 37,000 kilometres.

Walsh was “build captain” on the team that designed that Dutch-built craft, which had its maiden voyage in 2007. He fondly recalls previous visits to Atlantic Canada.
“We have cruised the region before with great success and we were patiently waiting, or I guess you should say impatiently waiting, to come back,” he says. “We had to put off for two seasons because of COVID.”

Last summer, Walsh and the crew took the owner and about 18 guests up the eastern seaboard with plans to explore new ports of call. They spent time in Western Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, plus an extended visit to Nova Scotia.

“This year we saw more of the northern shore of Nova Scotia and went day tripping to Pictou Island,” he says. “We saw more of PEI and spent about a week around Baddeck, NS. Adam’s local knowledge is exceptional and because of this he can pull some magic out of his hat. Adam was instrumental in the successful planning and making things happen. We had a visit to Pictou and Pictou Island and that is something that wouldn’t have happened without Adam. We had just the most amazing time there and the water was so warm — how was that possible?”

Thanks to social media, news travels fast in the yacht community. One ship’s good experiences will attract others. “Wherever Archimedes goes other ships will follow,” says Langley. “That’s why we need to make sure that we have everything in place and great itineraries, services and experiences ready for them when they arrive.”

Walsh agrees. “The East Coast is one of our favourite places to visit,” he says. “It’s right in our backyard really. You are going to see more large yachts going your way.”

And being ready for them is Langley’s mission. He wants to build “Ports of Confidence” that have all the amenities big boats need. “If you build for a superyacht, you build for everyone,” he adds. 

Changing the conversation

Langley knows what can happen when you change the conversation about waterfront infrastructure. He was eyeballs deep in the transformation of the Halifax Waterfront, starting as logistic coordinator for the 2017 tall-ships festival in Halifax and around the province.

From there he assumed a property management position and eventually became operations and marine business development director for Develop Nova Scotia, rebranded last year as Build Nova Scotia. During his time, the city’s waterfront has become one of the most envied, animated working waterfronts in the country — an example of what’s possible even in smaller communities.

“The first step with waterfront development is just going in with a really big broom and cleaning things up,” he says. “The opportunities reveal themselves … Marine infrastructure can quickly become over-complicated and can result in unattainable project budgets. You need to understand the end user’s basic needs and when possible, start with small incremental projects.”

Langley is putting his knowledge to work in places like Baddeck, NS, where he has taken on a consulting role with the village waterfront development project. “I have this disease that I want to make everything I did yesterday better today,” laughs Langley.

He and Amanda are meeting with Steve Goldthwaite, another American who has joined the Langley crew to elevate the coastal connections. Goldthwaite has his own story to tell about Baddeck. His grandparents bought an island on Bras d’Or Lake in the 1930s. But after his grandfather died, his family stopped their annual summer pilgrimage from New York to Cape Breton.

As an adult and with a family of his own, Goldthwaite returned to the Bras d’Or to revitalize the family property. He soon became emotionally and financially invested with the community. “Adam has a way of making people think differently about their waterfront,” says Goldthwaite from his boathouse adjacent to the recently revitalized Baddeck wharf — an asset they describe as flexible marine infrastructure.

In 2017, Baddeck residents Denise and Bill Mulley leased a historic building on the Baddeck wharf prior to the wharf upgrades and initiation of waterfront development projects. They opened the Freight Shed, a popular eatery that serves the boaters, locals, and visitors.

“When we were entering this business, we looked at the potential for the waterfront. There are many lifestyle changes happening. More people are embracing healthy living, sailing and just being on the water,” says Denise Mulley. “We see the vision and working with the village to build on what we already have … The waterfront was the perfect place to open not just for a place to eat but for an experience. And there is spin-off past the waterfront. When people visit the waterfront, they wander into the village, and also go and experience other things.”

The Mulleys also manage the Baddeck wharf and get to meet marine visitors. “The people on the yachts have all been terrific to deal with,” she says. “They are not just here to dock. They are buying everything from dog grooming services to groceries, from golf packages to hiking.”

To better understand the economic impacts of increased marine tourism, the new network of Destination Management Organizations will be keeping track of visiting yacht expenditures. Back on Archimedes, Captain Walsh tallies up what his owner spent cruising and experiencing different destinations in the region last summer. Fuel, food, tours, guides, and entertainment amount to a tidy US$400,000.

And there are other benefits. “When you have a waterfront where you have boats and superyachts stopping by, it creates an appeal for people visiting by land,” says Destination Cape Breton’s Terry Smith. “People love a vibrant working waterfront. It’s a big part of what people are looking for when they visit us by land or by water.”

The Langleys agree. “‘Superyachts sell ice cream,’ is one of the many new phrases Adam has coined since we started down this path,” says Amanda, who handles the marketing and appreciates a catchy sound bite. “It might not be as simple as this, but there is truth in it. There is always extra activity on the waterfront when the yachts are in and that’s good for everybody.”


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