BC businesses celebrate ‘record-breaking year’ for tourism as cruise season wraps up

Amid light rain and strong winds, residents of Prince Rupert, BC, welcomed almost 5,000 tourists on two cruise ships early Friday morning — a huge number of visitors for a city of just over 12,000 people.

The Holland America vessel Nieuw Amsterdam, with a maximum capacity of 2,106 passengers, and the Princess Line vessel Grand Princess, which can carry up to 2,600 passengers, both docked in the northwestern BC city Friday, capping a successful cruise season for coastal communities in the province after years of being subdued by COVID-19 travel restrictions.

A total of 42 cruise ships will have arrived in the North Coast municipality this season, which began in April after Canadian and US governments, public health authorities and industry representatives agreed on COVID-19 rules for international cruise ships to dock in BC

These include requiring passengers to test for the coronavirus before boarding the ships at departure points, and before disembarking at ports of call and their final destination. The season ends early October.

Businesses reliant on tourism

Ceilidh Marlow, executive director of Tourism Prince Rupert, estimates around 60,000 cruise tourists from across Canada, the US, and beyond have made Prince Rupert their travel destination.

“The season’s been great here in Prince Rupert — very, very busy,” she said.

“Certainly a record-breaking year — even when compared to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.”

The cruise industry generates millions of dollars for the province’s economy, but the seas were calm over the last two years after Canada banned international cruise ships from BC ports.

Marlow admits the travel ban during the first two years of the pandemic posed serious challenges to Prince Rupert businesses, which she says are all economically dependent on tourists.

“Many of our small businesses in the retail and dining sectors, and in the accommodation sector of course, are very much subsidized by tourism,” she said.

“Locals are able to have those amenities because of the volume of visitors that come in the summer and help to supplement that business.”

The downtown waterfront area in Prince Rupert, in northwestern BC Ceilidh Marlow, Tourism Prince Rupert executive director, says the travel ban during the first two years of the pandemic posed serious challenges to local businesses. (A. Davey/Flickr)

Successful cruise season for Victoria, Vancouver

Cruise tourism has also been a major source of revenue for shops and restaurants in downtown Vancouver and Victoria.

Chief Executive Officer Ian Robertson of Greater Victoria Harbor Authority says the industry’s two-year pandemic hiatus incurred a huge financial loss to Victoria, given how each ship of passengers can contribute $130 million to the city’s economy.

Despite a couple of ship call cancellations early in the summer, he adds, the season has gone well in Victoria.

“This year we will [have] welcomed 331 ship calls to Victoria — we are Canada’s busiest cruise port of call, bringing just over 725,000 passengers,” he said.

Passengers are pictured queuing up for a local tour at the port of Victoria in April. Chief Executive Officer Ian Robertson of Greater Victoria Harbor Authority says this cruise season has been a huge success for Victoria. (Ken Mizokoshi/CBC)

Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Association, also says this cruise season, with more than 300 ships docking at the port of Vancouver, has been a huge success for nearly 200 stores, cafés and restaurants in the downtown area.

While the revenue cruise tourists have brought in this year still lags behind pre-pandemic levels, Wargolet says he is optimistic for the next season.

“We’re hoping [it] is just better than it was this year,” he said.

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