Scaled-back plan for 2021 cruise-ship season; marketing continues for Alaska sailings

Transport Canada has extended its ban on visits by cruise ships to the end of February, as the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority makes plans for a pared-down cruise season ­starting in April.

It’s the third time the federal agency has imposed a ban on ­visiting cruise ships, after the vessels became some of the early sites for COVID-19 breakouts this spring.

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Ian Robertson, chief executive of the Harbour Authority, reiterated his support on Thursday for Transport Canada’s latest decision, saying: “Nothing is more important than reducing the risk of COVID-19 and keeping our community safe.”

The Harbour Authority, however, joined other Canadian ports in calling for a decision timeline for the cruise sector, and for a process to allow the safe return of cruise ships, he said.

Robertson said the authority is working with cruise lines as they develop plans for the safe return of cruises on the west coast of Canada and in other markets, and is preparing for cruise ships to dock next year.

The plan is for sailings to begin in the Caribbean and Mexico, said Robertson, who anticipates that could take place in late December and January.

Then the cruise lines will likely turn their focus to Alaska, where marketing has continued.

“From what I hear from the cruise lines, the demand for cruising is still very, very high and especially the demand for Alaska is still very, very high because it has always been seen as being safe,” Robertson said.

The current schedule for visits in 2021 would see more than 300 — an all-time high — but Robertson does not expect that figure to stand. “I think it is really premature to talk 2021 as a record year. I don’t believe it is going to be.”

As well, any ships that would dock here would not be full. Cruise lines are booking at between 30 and 50 per cent capacity, Robertson said.

The cruise lines have been focusing on repatriating passengers and crews, and are just starting to turn their attention to the upcoming season, he said.

The current schedule would see the Emerald Princess sail into Ogden Point on April 13 to launch the season, which would wrap up on Oct. 26 with the Norwegian Encore.

The cruise industry is critical to the Harbour Authority’s bottom line. After record-high revenue for the year ending March 31, the organization is predicting a deficit of $2.8 million for the current fiscal year, ending March 31, 2021, because of the loss of cruise-ship revenue.

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