Denis Berube was excited to see a giant new vessel arrive in Nanaimo’s harbour Thursday, and hoped it was a docking cruise ship.
Four years have passed since the last cruise ship visit to Nanaimo’s specially built terminal.
“That’s why we built this pier,” said Berube, a Nanaimo resident.
“I thought it was a cruise ship, you’re saying it’s a hotel? Oh that’s a good one,” he said.
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According to the Nanaimo Port Authority, many calls have come in asking about the towering MS Isabelle since it dropped anchor overnight Wednesday.
“We have been getting a lot of calls, yes,” said Satinder Singh, harbourmaster and vice-president of operations for the Nanaimo Port Authority.
But the MS Isabelle is no cruise ship. The vessel is actually a floating hotel built for hundreds of construction workers who will be tasked on a Squamish woodfibre LNG project.
“It’s a 652 cabin luxury flotel that has come to Nanaimo Port Authority before it goes into operation,” said Singh.
“It does look like a cruise ship. It’s about the same size as the cruise ships that we’re targeting for our 2024, and 2025 and beyond seasons,” said Andrea Thomas, head of cruise development for the Nanaimo Port Authority.
According to Thomas, two cruise ships are booked to stop in Nanaimo in May and August 2024, and two further cruise ships are booked for 2025. But she says it has been slow going trying to restore cruise interest to the small centre, since Nanaimo was just starting to build a reputation, when the pandemic shut the industry down.
“The last time the port here saw cruise ships was 2019, so since the pandemic, we’ve been slowly trying to rebuild that,” said Thomas.
It cost $24 million to build Nanaimo’s cruise ship terminal, so Berube is one of many in Nanaimo who are eager to see cruise tourism return.
“For our merchants here it would be a lot of help, that’s for sure,” he told CHEK News.
The Nanaimo Port Authority has set a goal of attracting 25 cruise ship visits to Nanaimo each year, but offered no timeline on how long that may take.
The MS Isabelle is expected to remain on Nanaimo’s waterfront until April, while preparing for its hundreds of flotel guests in Squamish.