With COVID restrictions lifted, Victoria and Vancouver expect the cruise business to come roaring back, but the Port of Nanaimo’s berth will remain empty for the 2022 cruise season.
Jason Michell, Port of Nanaimo vice-president of business development, confirmed that no cruise ships will be coming to Nanaimo this year.
Two cruise ships docked in Nanaimo in 2019. Michell said the port has been actively involved with port authority return-to-cruise committees nationally and provincially, supporting efforts to bring the cruise business back to Canadian ports. But those efforts have yet to bear fresh fruit for Nanaimo.
“The sad thing was we’ve been targeting luxury cruise lines and we actually had seven calls booked for 2020 and it was starting to look like the efforts were paying off,” Michell said. “We worked really hard with tourism experts to develop a new website with new categories for tourists and it was starting to grab ground, to be honest, and that unfortunate COVID incident [happened] and then it all caved in and you’ve got to start again.”
B.C.’s major coastal cities will have no shortage of cruise ship business this year. Brian Cant, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s communications director, said Victoria’s cruise ship schedule is “very fluid” as the season approaches, but said the harbour authority anticipates a busy year.
“We anticipate around 350 ships and, likely, 780,000 passengers this year,” Cant said in an e-mail.
Vancouver is predicting this year’s cruise tourism to be busier than seasons prior to the pandemic. Arpen Rana, senior communications advisor with the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority, said the cruise terminal will be pleased to welcome more than 300 port calls, an increase from 288 in 2019. The first cruise ship of the 2022 season arrives in Vancouver on April 7.
A Cruise Lines International Association study from 2019 calculated the total economic impact from the cruise ship industry on Canada’s economy was $4.3 billion – 64 per cent of which was generated in B.C. – and rose rapidly during the last decade.
Large luxury cruise ships that visited Nanaimo pre-pandemic could bring ashore more as many as 3,000 passengers and 2,000 crew. Even a small cruise ship – such as Silver Sea Cruises’ 596-passenger MV Silver Muse which paid a visit to Nanaimo in June 2019 – can make an impact 12-hour stay. According to the Port of Nanaimo estimates, each passenger who disembarked spent on average $80 for a potential $48,000 to the local economy.
Kim Smythe, Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce CEO, said overall tourism losses during the pandemic harmed a wide range of businesses and said taking cruise ship calls out of the tourism marketplace was a huge hit for B.C.
Jenn Houtby-Ferguson, Tourism Nanaimo interim executive director, said it’s disappointing the cruise ships will not return this summer, but said her organization is committed to working with the Port of Nanaimo to attract the cruise market.
“It has been a difficult few years for the tourism industry here in Nanaimo and around the world, yet we see positive indications Canadians are planning to travel this spring and summer,” Houtby-Ferguson said in an e-mail. “Early indicators show July and August look strong, and Tourism Nanaimo is excited to be welcoming visitors back to our beautiful community.”
Michell said the Port of Nanaimo will continue striving to bring back the cruise business.
“For us, we’re still building and we’re still going to pursue the opportunity with our tourism partners and pursue future business,” Michell said. “We have inquiries for ‘23 and ‘24 and we’re still going to keep pounding the pavement to keep trying to bring opportunity here for cruise tourism.”