Hundreds of ships scheduled to arrive in Victoria this cruise season, but cancellations expected

WatchVictoria's cruise season was shut down last year due to COVID-19 concerns. Even though it's unclear how many we'll see this year, there is still hope. As Jasmine Bala reports, there are more than 300 ships scheduled to make a stop in Victoria this year.

Victoria could see its first cruise ship of the season docking as early as May 1, if all goes according to schedule.

“We know that’s going to change,” said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority. “We’ve even seen today some cancellations by Norwegian Cruise Line.”

The 2021 cruise season is showing 309 ship calls as of right now, with more than 20 cancellations already, through early April into early June.

“We expect we’re going to see many more cancellations as we get closer to the season,” Robertson noted.

The schedule is updated on the 15th of every month during the off-season, with the latest one released on Friday. Since then, there have been at least three more cancellations.

The 2020 cruise season was cancelled after the federal government announced a ban on cruise ships operating in Canadian waters in April due to COVID-19 concerns. These measures have been extended until Feb. 28.

Although the GVHA anticipates the ban will be extended further, they are still planning for a cruise season.

“It’s easier to stand down on the planning than to ramp up and we want to make sure that we’re well prepared,” Robertson said, so when new guidelines come out, they’re able to “either meet or exceed those expectations.”

Robertson added the GVHA is hopeful there will be some cruise ships coming to Victoria this year, even if it’s towards the end of the cruise season.

“We’re all hoping that we will see some sense of cruise return in 2021, in terms of how that is or when that is, we just don’t know,” he noted. “We only will support the return of cruise when it’s safe to do so.”

READ MORE: ‘Final nail in the coffin’ of 2020 cruise ship season in Victoria due to COVID-19

But the impacts of another cancelled cruise season would be devastating for the local economy. The industry brings in more than $130-million in revenue every year and employs nearly 1,000 people.

The lack of international travellers has significantly impacted businesses that rely on those tourists, like SpringTide Whale Watching and Eco Tours.

“Our revenues were reduced about 93 per cent over the prior year, so that’s a big hit,” said Dan Kukat, president of SpringTide. “So instead of hiring about 40 full time staff, we’re down to about four or five.”

During a normal season, all five of their vessels are out on the water, doing two to three trips a day. In 2020, SpringTide had one boat in operation, with one to four trips every week.

Kukat was hoping to make at least half of their normal revenue this year, but in the last few months, that’s changed.

Numbers from University of Oxford-based tool, Our World in Data, shows Canada is behind in total vaccinations administered per 100 people compared to other countries, like the U.S. and Israel.

“With vaccination rates slipping the way they are and how we’re falling behind the rest of the travelling world,” Kukat said, “it appears as though we’re revising our estimates in the 20 to 40 percent range of normal revenues.”

The slowdown of the vaccine rollout is concerning, he said, noting that it’s going to impact how safe people feel travelling internationally when it’s allowed.

“We fear being viewed as a health risk to other parts of the world,” Kukat said.

More than 300 cruise ships are scheduled to dock in Victoria this year, but that number is likely to decline due to COVID-19. (CHEK News)

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