Cruise tourism misses the boat

It turns out our harbour isn’t as much of a transportation hub as we thought it was.

Sure, we have lots of ferries, private yachts, sailboats and seaplanes coming and going – just no cruise ships. Actually, we’ll have two visits this year from large cruise ship lines. That’s down from six visits last year, and it’s not enough.

It’s not enough to justify owning a $24-million cruise ship terminal complete with a $4-million architecture-award-winning building. It’s sort of like having a two-car garage to store a moped.

The Nanaimo Port Authority told us at this time last year that it anticipated having double-digit visits in 2014 as it worked toward its goal of 20-25 visits per year. How could those projections be so far off?

They say the industry is changing, and ships are taking a pass on optional ports of call in an era of rising marine fuel costs. Excuses, excuses – it shows a lack of foresight. We tried keeping up with the Joneses when we should have been heeding the warning signs. Nanaimo’s cruise ship dock was built after we saw what was happening – or more accurately, what wasn’t happening – at Campbell River’s unused terminal.

Still, we cashed $17 million worth of cheques from taxpayers – $8.5 million from the federal government, $5 million from the province and $3.5 million from Island Coastal Economic Trust – and went full-steam ahead.

We don’t doubt that the port authority and the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation do what they can to attract ships here, but when they fail to do so, it’s a letdown. And not just because of a lack of cruise ship traffic – part of the business plan was that cruise tourists would see our scenic seaside city and maybe come back for a longer stay. That won’t happen if cruise ships aren’t bringing people here.

It’s looking more and more like we might have made a mistake styling ourself a cruise destination. Unfortunately, all we can do is stand on the dock and wait for our ship to come in.

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