Visitors will likely be willing to pay hundreds of dollars on the restored direct ferry service between Vancouver Island and Bella Coola because it will be like a “mini-cruise,” says a tourism consultant.
“It’s a world-class experience. It is not just a commuter route. There is real tourism value in it so I think it will generate a lot of interest,” Frank Bourree of Chemistry Consulting in Victoria said Wednesday.
There are people who will want to travel the direct route between Port Hardy and Bella Coola, especially in the summer, he said.
Bourree anticipates that international visitors will be especially interested in this service and in what’s offered by Aboriginal tourism operators.
After the province announced in 2013 that it was cancelling the money-losing route, tourism operators on the Mainland cried foul, saying they were losing millions of dollars every year.
B.C. Ferries is bringing the direct service back. It has spent $12.6 million to buy Seajet’s 246-foot-long Aqua Spirit, built in 2000. B.C. Ferries took possession of the vessel on Wednesday and will be renaming the former Greek ferry Northern Sea Wolf.
Passengers can begin booking in mid-October for the 10-hour voyage. Direct service will be offered five times per week during peak tourist season.
The cost for the one-way trip will be $602.25 for a standard vehicle and driver. The price for an adult passenger will be $199.25, Ferries said.
That is close to the current fare between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert where the price is $469 per standard vehicle, not including a driver or passenger, during the regular or peak season. Passengers 12 years and older are charged $206 each.
Hot food service, a passenger lounge, outdoor seating, washrooms and an elevator are listed as ferry amenities on the Northern Sea Wolf.
Ferries points out that travellers will be arriving in the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest.
“We are excited for the future of the tourism industry from the north Island to the Cariboo Chilcotin coast region of B.C.,” said Pat Corbett, co-chair of the B.C. mid-coast ferry working group.
The new ferry will also be stopping at Bella Bella, Ocean Falls and Shearwater in the summer and in the off season as well.
It is scheduled to arrive in B.C. this fall and then go into refit and be upgraded. It will have room for at least 35 vehicles and 150 passengers and crew.
The new name for the ferry came out of a community engagement process involving First Nations, ferry advisory committee members, B.C. Ferries staff, and the mid-coast ferry working group.
A First Nations legend says the sea wolf is a manifestation of the orca. It symbolizes family, loyalty, and the sea wolf’s spirit protects those travelling in its waters.
The ferry’s purchase is included within a $201-million acquisition plan by B.C. Ferries. The federal government is providing $60 million and the province $15 million.