It’s going to be another tough summer for waterfront businesses in the Maritimes as they make do without cruise ship tourists for the second year in a row.
The federal government announced on Thursday that it would extend a ban on cruise ships entering Canadian waters until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Last summer was without a doubt the strangest summer of our lives in the industry,” says Dennis Campbell, CEO of Ambassatours Gray Line.
The tourism company owns and operates several gift shops, restaurants and excursions in the Halifax area.
Campbell says the company usually hires more than 400 students and seniors for seasonal positions that don’t exist without the seafaring tourist traffic – and now won’t again for 2021.
He says they’ve also heard from struggling businesses reaching for help.
“We had three calls last week from businesses asking if we were interested in acquiring them,” he says.
“Unfortunately it’s not an ideal time for acquisitions.”
“There’ll be lots of changes in the future for sure,” says Campbell.
Another waterfront business, Amos Pewter, opted not to keep the doors at their Halifax location open through the winter amid pandemic uncertainty.
“We’re hibernating for the winter in Halifax and will reopen in the spring,” says retail lead Karen Pinsent.
She says the overall impact of two years without cruise ships is undeniable.
“Especially where the locations at the Halifax Waterfront, Peggy’s Cove and Charlottetown where it’s on the waterfront. It’s where customers from the cruise ships would be drawn.”
According to the Port of Halifax and Port Saint John, cruise ship traffic is worth about $166 million a year to Nova Scotia and about $50 million to New Brunswick – but it isn’t all the money those industries make.
“From a revenue point of view it represents about 15 per cent of port revenue but this announcement wasn’t a surprise,” says Jim Quinn, CEO of Port Saint John.
“But that’s the port, the big thing I always worry about are the small business folks,” he says.
Now stakeholders turn an optimistic eye to 2022 and beyond – expecting ships to set sail again after enough people are vaccinated against COVID-19.
Businesses say they are banking on big numbers for the future.
“We’re told that at this point it looks like 2023 will be completely sold out,” says Campbell.