More cruise ships coming earlier in day to Victoria, staying longer

Cruise-ship daytime visits are scheduled to rise by about 17 per cent this year compared with last, bringing good news to local businesses keen to sell services and goods to tourists.

Of this season’s 229 dockings, close to 100 are scheduled for 2:30 p.m. or earlier.

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The earlier a ship comes in, the more time it gives passengers and crew to visit the capital region and open their wallets. They go on whale-watching tours, visit attractions such as Butchart Gardens, check out downtown, and go to restaurants and shops. Cruise lines use services such as local shipyards for repairs.

“I’m thrilled that they are up 17 per cent. That’s excellent,” said Darlene Hollstein, manager of the downtown Bay Centre, on Friday. The Bay Centre will stay open later to accommodate ship visitors and other tourists, she said.

Ships plying the popular Alaska cruise route often arrive at Ogden Point on their way home to Seattle, frequently leaving late in the evening.

This season launches April 22 when the Grand Princess arrives at 7 a.m. The final ship comes in on Nov. 9, also at 7 a.m.

“We have an increase in daytime calls and we also have longer stays,” said Sonterra Ross, chief operating officer of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, which oversees Ogden Point.

“It will stagger the schedule out a little better,” said Rick Crosby, acting CEO of the Harbour Authority.

Spreading out arrival times should reduce the impact on neighbours who are aggravated by emissions, noise and congestion caused by buses carrying ship passengers to and from city attractions. Even so, residents are calling for more stringent rules.

Two records are anticipated this year, eclipsing highs set in 2012, the Harbour Authority says.

A total of 229 ship visits are scheduled. In 2012, there were 224 visits.

Last year, there were 206.

Total passenger numbers are predicted to hit 513,000 this year. In 2012, ships carried close to 504,000 passengers; last year, they had a total of 465,000.

A study for the Harbour Authority said cruise ships generated an economic impact of $96 million in 2012.

The James Bay Neigbourhood Association’s own analysis disagrees, saying economic benefits were overstated.

The Neighbourhood Association and the cruise ships have had an uneasy relationship. Ogden Point is an industrial area in the midst of a high-density residential neighbourhood. When passengers hop on buses or other vehicles, they go past single-family houses and condominiums.

Marg Gardiner, president of the association, wrote to 10 cruise lines in July calling for changes. Recommendations include adjusting schedules so that no more than two ships are in port at one time, and preventing ships from arriving and departing at the same hour. “Schedule changes should be directed to minimizing both traffic surges and compounding of emissions,” she said.

As in other years, there are times this season when three ships will be moored at Ogden Point.

The association wants to see newer tour buses used in place of vehicles with older technology, Gardiner said.

Ross said the Harbour Authority will allow buses that have been used in the past at Ogden Point to be used again this season, but any additional buses must be from 1999 or later.

Paul Nursey, president of Tourism Victoria, said that more daytime visits is a trend in the right direction. “I do think cruise lines are listening to some of the ideas coming out of Victoria.”

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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