Vancouver businesses relieved cruise travel will resume, even with caveats
Businesses and municipal governments on both sides of the Salish Sea are relieved the federal government will lift its cruise ship ban in November, even though it comes with pandemic-related fine print.
Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, Tourism Vancouver and a local business improvement association describe Thursday's announcement that cruise ship travel will resume on Nov. 1 as welcome news, despite outstanding questions regarding visitors coming to Canada and exactly how COVID-19 cases could impact operations.
"This is fantastic news and another sign we're starting to put COVID behind us, though we still have to be cautious,” said Stewart. “This is going to get a lot of people back to work in a tourism industry that's just been hit so hard.”
The cruise industry is estimated to generate $2.2 billion in regional economic impact annually, with each shipload of tourists bringing an estimated $3 million to the local economy, according to Tourism Vancouver. But the federal government isn’t throwing the doors open completely.
“We are accelerating the timeline for allowing cruise ship activity,” said the federal transportation minister, Omar Alghabra, crediting Canada’s high vaccination rate. “Today’s announcement will depend on the public health situation at the time, especially in the communities where cruise ships will dock…but we are confident about the future.”
While the spectre of COVID-19 variants and the possibility of surging cases could put a damper on certain ports or the industry as a whole, the province’s transportation minister downplayed that possibility.
“I’m confident based on the track record here in British Columbia and our ability to keep businesses open safely during the pandemic that the cruise ship industry is going to be part of our economic rebound and the tourism economy going forward,” said Rob Fleming. “Suppliers, small businesspeople, long shore cruise ship industry employees, caterers — the list is long of people whose incomes that support their families are attached to this industry.”
LAWMAKERS, VACCINATIONS and FAMILIARITY
The Gastown Business Improvement Association believes B.C.’s low COVID rates will make Vancouver, in particular, a desirable destination for travellers from outside Canada — and that the popularity of the city will serve a secondary purpose as well.
American lawmakers are trying to put through a bill to allow international cruise lines to skip Canadian ports of call, which would be devastating to the tourism ecosystem that’s relied on those travellers.
“We're hoping that pent up tourist need, wanting to travel, will lead to them wanting to have Vancouver as a port of stop, even if it isn't required by U.S. law,” said Gastown BIA executive director Walley Wargolet. “They're very envious of what we've done, especially here in B.C. we've been very fortunate — you look at the death rates, vaccination rates, all of it's been positive.”
Fleming deflected questions about how his government would respond to further pushback from U.S. representatives, after allegations the province mishandled the issue and risked a collapse of the industry, insisting Thursday’s announcement would quash opposition.
“The accusation that somehow Canada and British Columbia were being insensitive to Alaska, which I think is perhaps what gave that initial temporary bill momentum, today has been erased by the federal government,” insisted Fleming.
WHEN TO EXPECT A RETURN
While the first date cruise ships can operate in B.C. waters is Nov. 1, Tourism Vancouver doesn’t expect any arrivals before the spring cruise season.
Wargolet is more optimistic.
“What we've heard is some of the larger cruise ships maybe not, but some of the smaller cruise ships may be able to rearrange their schedules,” he said, noting some Gastown businesses are down 90 per cent from pre-pandemic revenues. “The news spread through the neighbourhood and a lot of folks have a nice sense of optimism that we're finally going to get some positive news.”
Victoria’s mayor pointed out mayors in the capital region have been pushing for a reopening for months, and Vancouver is doing much the same with high hopes even a few vessels could give the local economy a boost between November and spring 2021.
"We'll continue to push for the earliest possible date where we can safely welcome folks into Vancouver harbour,” said Stewart. “You're starting to see people wake up from the COVID hibernation and this is another exciting sign.”