Cruise season brings tourism boom to Prince Rupert community

New gold rush on B.C.’s north coast: tourists
WATCH: LNG may not have materialized for residents of Prince Rupert but the cruise industry is booming. The city is seeing 100 per cent growth in visits.

One northern B.C. town is seeing impressive growth thanks to cruise ship visits this year.

The first cruise ship of the season has arrived in Prince Rupert and this year, 17,000 passengers will come ashore in Cow Bay. That’s twice the number compared to last year and four times the amount that hit the port city in 2015.

Nearly all the tourists are looking for a unique shore excursion in Prince Rupert, which is a gateway to wilderness areas like the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Sanctuary bear habitat and other wildlife viewing experiences in B.C.’s Northwest Pacific Coast.

Prince Rupert is about a seven-hour drive from Prince George and the closest city is Terrace, which is about a 1.5 hours away. Regardless of it being significantly busier for a town that boasts a population of just over 12,500, the cruise ship industry is a welcome boost to a tourism market on the North Coast that is experiencing record growth.

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The increase in visitors has also caused new businesses in the region to open and get a piece of the market.

Just 15 kilometres south of Prince Rupert in Port Edward, Justine Crawford turned the derelict Cassiar Cannery into one of the most unique places to stay in B.C. and she says business is booming.

“Last year we grew 125 per cent and this year, I’m going to say we’re on track to probably go 75 per cent above that,” Crawford, who chalks up their significant growth to experiential programs they began offering last year, said.

“That’s drawn a whole new group of people to the Cassiar Cannery that probably wouldn’t have come beforehand. We do a women’s rejuvenation retreat that’s attracted women as far away as Alberta and Vancouver Island and Okanagan… We’re doing one at the end of the month which they call ecology week, which ties into our science and research and that’s an eight-day exploratory program around the North Coast.”

Crawford says the program goes from looking at tiny things under the microscope to taking a float plane to the Khutzeymateen Valley looking for grizzly bears.

At the North Pacific Cannery, which is now a museum, they’re busy getting enough staff in place for Canada’s 150th birthday celebrations. It’s proving to be a challenge for the popular tourist destination and other businesses in the region to build the necessary infrastructure to accommodate an additional 17,000 people.

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But as Northern BC Tourism board member Jack Payne says, it’s a good problem to have.

“That’s where we’re talking about the chicken and the egg,” Payne says. “Once there’s that basic core and flow of those customers then there’s opportunities for people to do more things. Build more shore excursions, build more facilities, expand your campground… whatever it might be to take care of that business. But you need have some assurance that it’s going to stay like that for awhile and that you can finance it and build it.”

With hotels being renovated and new businesses opening, the economic opportunity the tourism boom has brought the region is more than welcomed.

– With files from Aaron McArthur