Cruise ships permitted in Canadian ports starting in November

Jubilant Greater Victoria ­tourism officials received the news they’d been hoping for when the federal government announced Thursday that cruise ships will be allowed to dock in Canada as of November.

Harbour officials predict the move will result in a strong cruise season in 2022 and beyond and bolster the bottom line for businesses that rely on the ­hundreds of thousands of visitors and crews who typically arrive at Ogden Point every year.

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The federal government previously said cruise ships would be restricted until at least Feb. 28, 2022 because of the pandemic.

The November reopening date was announced at Ogden Point in Victoria by ­Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, who said it gives cruise-ship ­operators time to prepare so they’re ready for full operations by the start of the 2022 cruise season, as long as they comply with public-health requirements.

For two consecutive ­seasons, the global pandemic nixed the Alaska cruise-ship season, including the 200-plus ship visits normally made to Ogden Point annually, slashing the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s biggest revenue generator, along with a source of income for local businesses and attractions.

Alghabra suggested that even though the Alaska cruise-ship season will be over by ­November, some smaller vessels may be able to dock in Canada this year. Arrivals will be subject to health and safety protocols, still to be developed with health organizations, and subject to public health conditions at that time, Alghabra said.

“Every person who rolled up a sleeve to get vaccinated has helped us get to this point,” he said. “But we must remain vigilant.”

He cautioned that the global pandemic is not over and said the government continues to advise Canadians to avoid travel on cruise ships outside the country. “But we are confident about the future.”

The cruise-ship industry represents more than $4 billion annually for the national economy and is vital for the tourism sector, Alghabra said.

The industry is worth about $2.7 billion to the province, while in the capital region, the sector would normally bring in about $130 million each year and support 800-plus jobs, according to the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming called the federal decision great news for the cruise-ship and tourism industries, especially after 15 to 16 months of uncertainty.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the announcement will allow local businesses — many of which have been hit “very, very hard” — to plan for the coming year.

It also provides certainty for the Harbour Authority, which is aiming to see shore power installed at Ogden Point. “This is a significant announcement not only in terms of our economy but the transition at least of this port to be one of the greenest in North America,” Helps said.

Ian Robertson, Harbour Authority chief executive, said he’s happy with the Nov. 1 reopening, which is what the sector had asked for, although it’s too early to say how many cruise ship visits can be expected in 2022. The schedule is expected to be set by the fall.

Robertson said he’s also uncertain about what kind of capacity will be allowed. Even so, he predicts a “strong cruise season” in 2022.

Cruise lines have said previously that they want to return to Victoria, he said. “I know they will be thrilled.”

The majority of ship visits to Victoria are tied to the Alaska cruise-ship season, running from spring to fall, and demand for Alaska cruises remains strong, Robertson said.

Eyes will be on other cruise destinations such as Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe to see how the industry fares, he said.

The harbour authority had banded together with about two dozen tourism agencies to lobby the federal government to make a decision on when the ships could resume visits in Canada.

Charlie Ball, chair of the Vancouver-based Cruise Lines International Association for the North West and Canada, said the federal decision provides greater clarity for a return to cruises to Canada for next year.

Barry Penner, legal adviser to the association, called it a “positive step” but said the sector needs more details about required health protocols.

Talks between Canadian health officials and cruise lines need to happen quickly, said Penner, who hopes those details will be nailed down prior to an anticipated federal election announcement, which he fears could delay the process.

The question of whether the U.S. will permanently change legislation requiring cruise ships to stop in Canada if travelling between two American ports remains. Alaska-bound cruise ships won an exemption this year from the mandatory stop, and the first ship headed north last week.

Penner noted that cruising has already started up elsewhere, saying by month’s end, 60 ships will be sailing internationally.

At Ogden Point, Andrew Capeau, owner of Victoria Pedicab Company, was thrilled with the news that cruises could return soon, saying he’s only been able to hire minimal staff this year and is now looking forward to 2022.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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