The Victoria Clipper, with a new majority owner behind it, plans to expand its operations to include a new harbour-to-harbour service between Victoria and Vancouver.
Clipper founder and chief executive Merideth Tall announced Monday she has sold a majority stake in her 30-year-old company to Germany’s FRS, a global ferry and shipping group, and intends to immediately expand Clipper’s passenger-service options from Victoria. The Clipper already runs a high-speed passenger-only service between Victoria and Seattle.
“This is a major expansion — this allows us to execute on our vision for North America and allows for FRS to execute on its vision for North America,” said Tall, adding the partnership also plans to offer service between Nanaimo and Vancouver and eventually between Cuba and Florida.
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, although Tall said FRS now has the majority stake in Clipper, while she holds onto a significant portion of the company.
“The impact to Victoria will be enormous,” she said, noting it means more than doubling the Victoria staff of 22 as well as adding a transportation link between Victoria and the mainland. “This is jobs, this is tourism and this is a really huge investment from Europe.”
Tall, who will stay on as chief executive officer of Clipper, said she is waiting to disclose what kind of vessel will be used on the route, how many passengers it will carry and how long the trip between the two harbours will take.
“I will say it’s larger than anything I have ever operated and at least as fast, if not faster, than anything I have ever operated,” she said.
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps called the plan fantastic news for the city, adding it dovetails with the city’s economic action plan to grow the experiential tourism market.
“This is a pretty strong signal about people’s confidence in Victoria to have not one but two international companies invest in our city in the marine industry in the space of a couple of months — that’s good news,” she said.
Tall said Clipper’s new service will be operating this spring, which means it will beat to the marketplace Riverside Marine’s proposed harbour-to-harbour catamaran service.
Australia-based Riverside, which will operate from the CPR Steamship Terminal, is spending $15 million to get its service to and from Vancouver up and running by July.
Riverside has said its service, which can carry 300 passengers, will be more of a high-end travel experience than a point-to-point transportation link.
Asked if there’s room for two companies on the route, Tall said: “I don’t know, but I’m not worried about that. The customers will decide.”
Tall said she has wanted to run a Victoria-to-Vancouver service for years, but wouldn’t do it until the company had the right vessel for the job. With the partnership with FRS, she now has the vessel.
“I was adamant you can’t do this properly unless you have a large and extremely high-quality, good sea-keeping vessel and that’s exactly what we are going to be doing,” she said. “No one knows these waters better than we do and that is a very challenging piece of water between Victoria and Vancouver.
“We have 30 years of experience and I have no doubt we understand the market and how to serve it.”
Götz Becker, chief executive of FRS, said the acquisition of Clipper is a chance to expand its presence in North America.
FRS currently operates 60 vessels in 12 countries, and carries more than seven million passengers and 1.9 million vehicles a year on national and international ferry lines.