Cruise ships will once again be bringing thousands of passengers — and potential customers — into Vancouver this spring and while COVID-19 may have made some people wary of hopping aboard, local business owners are looking forward to what experts say could be a record-breaking year.
The industry generates million of dollars for the city’s economy, but for the last two years, the seas have remained calm after Canada banned international cruise ships from B.C. ports. In July, the federal government said cruise ships could return after November but had to follow public health requirements.
Now, more than 300 ships are scheduled to pull into the Port of Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal at Canada Place beginning in April. According to a statement from the port, more than one million tourists are expected to flood the city this year.
“[It] could be one of the best years ever for the cruise business here,” said Walley Wargolet, executive director of the Gastown Business Improvement Association. The neighbourhood is located near the terminal and many shops cater to cruise ship crowds.
It’s welcome news for Gastown businesses who suffered during the pandemic. Some that relied heavily on tourists saw an 80 per cent decline in revenue, according to Wargolet.
Kiarash Kalhor, the owner of Cigar Connoisseurs, says he has relied on ship passengers to keep his shop afloat for decades. Knowing there are a million cruiser ship passengers on their way, says Kalhor, is thrilling.
“Time goes a lot slower these days,” he said, adding sales were down after the ships stopped coming.
According to Wargolet, 34 businesses in the neighbourhood closed their doors permanently during the pandemic.
Walt Judas, CEO of Tourism B.C., said the province accounts for about 65 per cent of Canada’s entire cruise market and the industry brings about $2.7 billion into the B.C. economy.
Svetlana Fuchs, the owner of Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, said many of her clients are cruise ship passengers who found her gallery and then continue to return.
Fuchs said it was tough when the ships stopped and while she pivoted as best she could over the pandemic to attract business via social media, the prospect of more foot traffic feels promising.
“We’re super excited to see Gastown being visited and with vibrancy and excitement again,” said Fuchs.
The federal government stopped cruises because of pandemic health and safety risks. Barry Penner, legal adviser to Cruise Lines International Association — Northwest and Canada, says effective protocols are in place to keep travellers safe.
Cruise ship passengers must be fully vaccinated, he said, and will be tested for the virus before sailing. Penner said the industry has managed to mitigate most risk.
“Half a million people, 500,000 people, have cruised out of the United States on our members’ lines, and out of that, only five people required hospitalization,” said Penner.
In a statement, the federal government said a safe reopening will help grow the economy and it understands how hard the tourism and cruise ship sectors have been hit by the pandemic.
“We’re working with public health colleagues and the industry to determine a measured plan that will make sure we restart the sector safely and securely,” said the statement.