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Comment: Building back better as cruise ships return

CHRSTINE WILLOW and IAN ROBERTSON A commentary by the board chair of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and its CEO. More than ever, we understand the triple-bottom line impact of cruise tourism in Victoria.
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Ovation of the Seas at the Ogden Point cruise ship terminal on July 25, 2019. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

CHRSTINE WILLOW and IAN ROBERTSON

A commentary by the board chair of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority and its CEO.

More than ever, we understand the triple-bottom line impact of cruise tourism in Victoria. Without two full seasons of cruise in Greater Victoria, many small business owners and their employees have struggled.

As a not-for-profit organization, 70 per cent of our annual revenues come from cruise ­tariffs; this money is reinvested in our properties and community amenities, such as the Ogden Point Breakwater, Ship Point, and the Inner Harbour Lower Causeway.

Our organization has experienced a multimillion-dollar loss and will have to make some hard decisions regarding maintenance of some of our public amenities.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, so does our work on ensuring that we will be prepared to welcome back this important industry to Victoria.

This is what our team has been focused on for the past 18 months. Plans for resumption include health and safety protocols, communication standards and traffic routing.

All of this is done in consultation with various partners and agencies. As any organization or business would do, we recognize and look for opportunities to improve how cruise forms part of the economy of Greater Victoria.

These opportunities have included projects such as the emissions inventory of the cruise and general marine terminal, which showed a 41 per cent decrease in criteria air contaminants between 2010 and 2018; moving forward on our $24-million shore power project; installation of air monitoring stations in partnership with the Ministry of Environment throughout James Bay; and maintaining our focus on encouraging visitors to walk to and from downtown, which increased to 30 per cent of all disembarking passengers in 2019 and is up from 22 per cent in 2014.

We are proud of this work and all other projects we have underway to further improve cruise operations in Greater Victoria.

Over the past year, we have hosted several discussions via webinar that focus on the resumption of cruise and the work that we, and our partners, are doing.

During each of these webinars, members of the community learned, asked questions, and challenged all of us to work together toward a strong return of cruise to our region. This type of dialogue will continue, with a hopeful return to connecting with the community in-person rather than just virtually.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reaffirmed that misinformation easily spreads; broad statements and inaccurate claims shared by the James Bay Neighbourhood Association about how waste is managed in Victoria and emissions are monitored and controlled in Canadian waters continues to be disappointing.

Most recently, the assertion was made in their monthly newsletter that our shore-power project was not moving forward, which was not true.

While areas under our management and on our properties are enhanced, we also stand alongside hard-working and dedicated members of the local cruise industry as they work toward continuous improvement throughout the entire cruise journey.

Perhaps the best example of this improvement would be the work of Victoria-based Pacific Northwest Transportation Services, which operates a fleet of highway coaches and shuttles to service the industry in the region.

In 2019, they prepared for an increase in cruise passengers by shifting from several single-floor buses to double-decker buses so that the same number of tires would hit the road but would be able to carry more people effectively and efficiently.

The company is also working toward zero emissions, has electric vehicles in their fleet, and are investing in hydrogen conversion technology. It is stories like these that benefit from clear and accurate information and facts, not broad assertions based on observation.

We have and continue to provide our feedback and insights on the future of cruise in Greater Victoria and yet, in November 2020, the neighbourhood association chose not to include our submission as part of their planning and engagement process.

We believe in open and transparent dialogue that focuses on solutions and moving forward. A copy of this feedback was also placed on our website and sent to Victoria’s mayor and council to provide increased transparency from our organization.

Our community liaison committee begins this fall and we have invited the neighbourhood association to join us for solutions-focused discussions alongside First Nations, our member agencies and community organizations in Greater Victoria.

Working together finds solutions and creates strong communities, but presenting incomplete information gets us nowhere. We await their reply.