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Final cruise ship of the season wraps up a record year

As pandemic restrictions lifted, Ogden Point saw 329 cruise-ship visits this year, up from the previous record of 257 in 2019
Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, with the cruise ship Crown Princess at Ogden Point on Thursday. The ship visit was the last of the season. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Next year’s cruise season could bring a record one million passengers to Victoria’s Ogden Point, now that the industry is rebounding from the pandemic, says the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s chief executive.

Ian Robertson made the prediction Thursday while marking the final ship visit for 2022, a year that broke records for the number of ship visits and passengers landing at Ogden Point, as the Alaska cruise route rebounded from two seasons of pandemic shutdown.

Ogden Point saw a total of 329 cruise-ship visits this year, up from the previous record of 257 in 2019, Robertson said. “It’s been a great year.”

The first ship to arrive in Victoria — and in Canada — after the pandemic-imposed break was the Koningsdam with the Holland America line, which pulled in to Ogden Point on April 9.

Ships brought in a total of 715,000 passengers this season, up from 709,000 in 2019, and Robertson predicts 2023 will be “another record year.”

Cruise lines are already planning for 340 ship visits in 2023, he said. “I think we will nudge that one-million passenger mark next year.”

Robertson is also anticipating that the cruise-ship season will continue to run longer than in the past.

Normally the final ship arrives in October, but this year, the Crown Princess docked on Nov. 3, the latest date Robertson can recall. He predicts ships will also start arriving in March.

The unusual season began with continuing COVID protocols and safety measures, which tapered off as vaccinations and testing were no longer required.

Overall, ships carried about 70 per cent of their capacity, Robertson said, although the percentage varied by cruise line. “Certainly in the early start of the year, we were seeing ships come in around 40 to 50 per cent,” he said, adding by the end of the season, many were at 75 to 100 per cent capacity.

“So overall, we did see an increase in passenger count through the year.”

It was probably good that ships were not as full at the beginning of the season because some of the tour operators were experiencing labour shortages, he said.

At the start of the season, all cruise passengers had to be vaccinated, have the ArriveCAN app and mask up when they left the vessel for Harbour Authority property, but those protocols eased as the season progressed.

Most ships at Ogden Point are carrying passengers on the popular Alaska cruise route, and many pull in to Victoria to comply with U.S. regulations prohibiting foreign-flagged passenger vessels from travelling between U.S. ports.

American politicians have been speaking out against the federal requirement, which at this point still stands, although Robertson said the Harbour Authority continues to watch the issue.

This was the first season that cruise ships were able to use the new Pier B dolphin, which had been ready for 2020, and Robertson said cruise lines were happy with the new infrastructure.

Another change this year is that the bus stop for ship passengers heading downtown from Ogden Point was moved father north, which meant many businesses on the southern end of Government Street did not see shoppers from the ships, said Jeff Bray, chief executive at the Downtown Victoria Business Association.

Bray is urging Victoria’s newly elected council to open one lane on Government Street to accommodate the cruise-ship buses.

Another problem with the new route is that the buses bypass Victoria’s Harbour, which would be a more scenic route, Bray said.

One challenge was ships coming in later than scheduled, which affected some businesses’ bottom lines, since many were closed by the time passengers turned up, Bray said, noting retailers are already struggling to find enough staff and extended hours are not practical.

“For some of our businesses, the economic impact [of returning cruise ships] was probably lessened over normal years only because of some of these scheduling issues.”

Even so, cruise ships are “still very welcome,” and bring a noticeable increase in foot traffic downtown, Bray said.