Cautious cruise restart ahead

Cautious cruise restart ahead
Cruise ships docked in Halifax, N.S.

The return of cruise ships to Canadian waters is only going to happen “at the appropriate time,” said Andrew Dixon, senior vice-president responsible for trade and business development with Port Saint John.

Dixon also happens to be the person tapped to chair the national Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) cruise committee. For months now, he’s been working with a team across the country on hammering out recommendations for port and shore excursion protocols that could allow the return of the cruise business to Canada.

A restart, whenever it may come (Dixon wouldn’t suggest any particular timeline), will be a lot more complicated than simply docking a ship. “We want to make sure that our communities are protected, our cruise guests are protected and the protocols are in place that will allow us to be assured of that,” he said.

Transport Canada and Public Health Canada are responsible for making the essential call.
In March 2020, Transport Canada ordered a delayed start to the cruise season with a ban on cruise ships, initially targeting vessels with more than 500 passengers and crew. That was expanded to cover cruise ships with overnight accommodations for 100 people or more and extended to Oct. 31. In the fall, being a time of low activity with or without COVID, the ban was further extended to the end of February 2021.

Dixon said the cruise committee has reached out to involve more than the association’s core membership, bringing in independent ports throughout the country. The independent ports include Victoria, B.C., Charlottetown, P.E.I., and Sydney, N.S.

Port Charlottetown CEO Mike Cochrane told Atlantic Business the loss of cruise ships, “as in other Canadian ports, has obviously been a big loss for the entire community.”

Dixon said the committee is aware some ports and communities are more reliant than others on cruise ship revenue. He said Sydney, as an example, is a case where “a tremendous amount of their activity” is linked to visiting vessels. Other ports might see only five to 10 per cent of revenue tied to cruise ships pre-COVID-19.

“Then there are ports like ourselves (in Saint John) that are—it’s a significant amount of revenue. It can be 15, 20 per cent, 30 per cent, that sort of thing and so it’s a real hit when it’s completely gone and you really need to rely on your diversification. But long-term, your sustainability is somewhat reliant on that sector coming back,” he said.

Canada welcomed over 140 cruise ships in 2019, from 10 different countries, bringing at least two million travelers.

The committee’s immediate mandate is to work toward a safe resumption of cruises in Canada, to begin to chase that count again. That includes working in close contact with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry association representing 95 per cent of the global ocean cruise capacity.

“So between CLIA and the ACPA cruise committee, if we’re collaborating properly and then communicating with federal and provincial Transport and Health departments, then that’s our best avenue to arrive at safe, consistent, well thought-out protocols for the safe resumption of cruising in Canada at the appropriate time,” Dixon said.

CLIA has laid out a controlled approach, with: fewer passengers per vessel (a lower “fill rate”), upgraded HVAC systems, redundancy in onboard medical staff lists, established relationships with onshore medical institutions at every port and telemedicine consultations if needed, limited itineraries at the start including shorter trips and tight control for onshore excursions.

Dixon said given everything at play, there’s no telling right now if planned stops in Atlantic Canada for even mid and late 2021 will proceed as planned. The federal government will have to make its determinations, as a starting point. But the issues are being worked on.

“We want to make sure it is safe, that the protocols are tight, that it makes sense,” Dixon said. •

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