Anticipation is building already for Atlantic tourism operators on word cruise ships will be coming back to the region in 2022.
Transport Canada announced Thursday it would lift a ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters on Nov. 1, 2021, provided operators can ensure they are in compliance with public health regulations.
In a news release, it said it “looks forward to having a cruising season” next year.
Alex Haram’s Lebanese restaurant, Let’s Hummus, sits just metres away from Saint John’s two cruise terminals.
“The first thing we did, we had a bottle of champagne, me and my wife,” Haram laughed, speaking of his reaction to the end of the cruise ban.
He said he and his wife committed to moving their business to Water Street from the city’s north end in December 2019, to capitalize on the cruise ship traffic before the pandemic began.
The restaurant reopened last July following several delays, but Haram admits he almost shut down for good.
“We do have items that we haven’t introduced yet, since we started,” Haram said. “It was the plan from the beginning. We have specific items, small snacks and small wraps, mini-wraps for cruise ships.”
Port Saint John was expecting a record cruise season in 2020 before it was cancelled.
Andrew Dixon, the port’s senior vice president of business development, said Port Saint John missed out on roughly $7 million in revenue over the last two scuttled seasons.
He said the port will be ready for next May when its first ship is due to arrive.
“It gives us almost ten months of preparation,” Dixon said. “So, operationally that’s great, but it’s even more important from a business development standpoint. The cruise lines can announce to their clientele, ‘this is happening. This Canada-New England product is happening.'”
Dixon believes the early numbers are promising.
He said there are already seventy ships scheduled to reach Saint John in 2022. In pre-pandemic years, he said they’d be carrying about 188,000 passengers.
Danielle Timmons of Aquila Tours in Saint John said cruise represents about 90 per cent of its business year over year, so the last two years have been especially challenging.
Timmons is also the chair of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s National Cruise Committee.
She said the committee pressed decision-makers to treat cruises like other forms of travel.
“You can get on a plane right now and you can travel,” Timmons said. “And so cruising is very, very safe. The protocols that the cruise lines have to abide by are extremely strict. They’re more strict than some of the travel, transportation methods.”
Ambassatours, one of Halifax’s largest tourism operators, said about half its business comes from cruises.
CEO Dennis Campbell said local economic spinoffs are enormous.
“There’s so many little shops, boutiques, restaurants, pubs, taverns that all rely on cruise ship business and will benefit greatly,” he said.
But Campbell also admitted to challenges along the way.
He said returning staff will have to be retrained and new staff will have to be hired to replace people who left the industry altogether.
And he said there are operators and suppliers who are not sure they will even survive for when the ships do return.
“The federal government really needs to look at the wage subsidy for the most highly-affected sectors, like tourism,” Campbell said. “Because otherwise there will be many, many suppliers that just won’t be there when the cruise ships come back.”