As the MS Koningsdam cruised under the Lions Gate Bridge early Sunday morning, it’s wasn’t just carrying 1,200 passengers and 900 crew, but hope for renewal for Vancouver’s beleaguered tourism industry.
It’s the first cruise ship in nearly 900 days to arrive in Canada’s largest port, and is viewed by the hotel, restaurant and downtown retail sectors as a hopeful portent of what is to come.
“It’s kind of the bread and butter of Gastown,” Syd Gill, assistant general manager of Café Kitsuné in Gastown told Global News.
“We invest our entire year into making all of our profits in the tourist season, and cruise ships are kind of the most reliable source of income, because you know every day a cruise ship is docking, thousands of people are coming on through, so you can count on that traffic.”
This reliable source of customers hasn’t been a presence for two full summer seasons, and merchants in Gastown —a tourism-reliant neighbourhood adjacent to the cruise terminals — have felt the pain.
While B.C. has made a push to promote domestic tourism to try and fill the gap, it isn’t the same. The Tourism Industry Association of B.C. estimates international visitors spend three to five times as much as Canadian travellers do.
“Our visitor economy was first and hardest hit and will be the longest to recover,” Royce Chwin, president and CEO of Destination Vancouver said at media event to welcome the Koningsdam.
“Here in Vancouver, in 2019, it was worth over $14 billion. In the last couple of years it was decimated to just over $5 billion annually, so we’ve got significant ground to rebuild, and cruise is a really important part of that.”
Vancouver was the Holland America line vessel’s second port of call in B.C., following a stop in Victoria on Saturday, and the Koningsdam arrived in Vancouver carrying about half the complement of passengers it normally would.
The Port of Vancouver is expecting about 310 cruise ships to dock in the city over the summer season.
For Café Kitsuné, which opened during the pandemic and has been making do with reduced foot traffic in the neighbourhood, that figure presents the hope of an unprecedentedly busy summer.
“We’ve been prepping all of our staff, getting a whole new schedule in, whole new food offerings,” Gill said.
“It’s always so nice to get new people coming in from different places, they’re always so excited to be here.”
After its stop in Vancouver, the Koningsdam is scheduled to set out on an 18-day round trip to Hawaii, arriving back in the city at the end of the month.