The lack of cruise ship traffic in the Maritimes dealt a heavy blow to port cities like Halifax and Saint John this year.
Both were expecting banner years – Halifax looking forward to around 200 ships and Saint John ready to court 90 before COVID-19 scrapped the season.
The industry is worth about $164 million in Nova Scotia and close to $50 million in New Brunswick.
All those numbers were zero for the year instead.
“Everybody knows what has happened,” says Lane Farguson, media relations and communications manager for the Port of Halifax, “not just to cruise here in Halifax but to all aspects of life as we know it.”
Last week, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced the extension of cruise restrictions in Canadian waters through the end of February 2021.
Cruise season doesn’t tend to start in the region until April, but stakeholders are still watching each Garneau announcement anxiously.
“The total effect on New Brunswick could be quite significant,” says Saint John Region Chamber of Commerce CEO David Duplisea.
Duplisea says over 290 jobs are impacted by a lack of cruise ships – with many vendors staking their livelihoods on tourist foot traffic.
“I think the total fallout number is going to be significant.”
Saint John-based Aquila Tours is one of those business banking on seafaring tourists.
“We were preparing to take about 75,000 people on tour,” says vice-president Danielle Timmons – again, they saw zero.
Timmons says that considering how the cruise industry has recovered abroad, they’re optimistic.
“We’re looking forward to the same kind of safe, phased approach for cruise here in Saint John for 2021,” she says.
Port Saint John CEO Jim Quinn says that’s the best-case scenario.
“I don’t think it’ll be like an on-off switch,” he says.
Quinn also serves on the board of directors for the Association of Canada Port Authorities.
“We’re putting together information that we think governments at all levels need to take into consideration as they look to see when cruise will resume,” he says.
Quinn says that while the economic benefits of restarting cruises are important, health and safety need to come first.
In the meantime, Duplisea says stakeholders are adapting.
“We’ve been through world wars and previous pandemics,” he says. “We can get through this together.”