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Port authority aims to attract more cruise ships to Nanaimo

Seven large cruise ships and two small ones will call in Nanaimo this year.

That’s an increase from last year’s numbers – five large ships and two small – but still a ways from the Nanaimo Port Authority’s goal of 20-25 ship visits by 2015. Large ships carry 2,000-2,500 people and small ones carry about 400.

“We’ve got a little extra time,” said Bernie Dumas, port authority president. “I’m optimistic the numbers will be in the double digits by 2014.”

Nine large ships were expected to dock in the Harbour City this year, but as companies finalized their seasons, two visits were cancelled.

Last year, about 9,200 people stepped off the boat in Nanaimo and the port authority hopes to get about 17,000 or 18,000 people to come ashore to enjoy amenities the city has to offer this year.

“One of the most important parts is we need the community’s involvement,” said Dumas. “You need attractions and you need activities to really cater to the ship.”

Victoria has more than 200 cruise ship visits scheduled this year. He said the port authority is working on a cruise development program with the help of a consultant with experience in the cruise industry, who was up in Nanaimo this week to deliver a workshop to local businesses and tourism representatives on how to better serve the cruise ship industry.

Many cruise ship visitors end up on buses heading out of town to do wine tours in the Cowichan Valley or to Port Alberni to see Cathedral Grove or ride the steam train, said Dumas, and while the port authority arranges for buses to take passengers to downtown Nanaimo, once there, people need things to do and open businesses to visit.

If the city can attract summertime ships – right now ships are coming in the spring and fall – then the port authority can easily meet its goal of 20-25 ships, said Dumas.

“Passengers are not necessarily looking for Disney World,” he said, adding the city’s beautiful natural surroundings, such as the waterfront and Mount Benson, afford plenty of activities for visitors, although tour operators have some stringent guidelines to meet before cruise carriers will allow a business to market their activity to passengers.

Dumas said data from the industry suggests cruise ship passengers spend between $70 and $100 on average during stops in cities and with 2,000 or more passengers aboard, that adds up quickly.

Sasha Angus, Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation CEO, said the organization’s Tourism Leadership Committee is finalizing a three-year strategic plan that will look at how to market Nanaimo to attract more visitors and how to support development of new tourism experiences, as well as better highlight the experiences already here.

He said the economic impact of cruise ships can go beyond the day-long visit – the corporation has heard from people who visited Nanaimo while on a ship and returned later for a longer visit.

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