Cruise industry in Maritimes already preparing for next spring

Starting next month, cruise ships will officially be allowed to visit ports in the Maritimes once again as the federal government prepares to lift its ban on the vessels in Canadian waters which was put in place because of the pandemic.

However, industry officials say that though they are getting the green light on Nov. 1, it will be months before Maritimers can get a glimpse of a cruise ship docked in their community, and that the season will start in Canada next spring.

Andrew Dixon is the senior vice-president of trade and business development at the Port of Saint John, and also serves as chair of the National Cruise Committee of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities.

"There's no activity that I'm aware of across Canada at the tail end of this season in November," says Dixon, "so we're truly talking about something that is about five or six months away still, effectively."

Canada's cruise ship ban was originally set to remain in place until February 2022, however, back in July of this year federal Transport minister Omar Alghabra announced that it would be lifted earlier if operators are able to follow public health guidelines.

The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the cruise sector which, according to Transport Canada, is a $4-billion industry in Canada and generates around 30,000 jobs directly and indirectly.

Although ships won't arrive until next year, preparations are well underway. Dixon says at the Port of Saint John they have a full schedule in place and expect to see a "robust" cruise season next year if things continue to stay on track.

"We're just going month by month and reconfirming with each of the lines, everything seems to be very stable," Dixon said.

At the Port of Halifax it's expected that they'll see vessel call bookings of about 80 per cent of where they left of back in 2019.

"It should be a pretty good start for rebuilding and we're happy about that," says Lane Farguson, communications manager for the Port of Halifax.

"There's still a lot of unknowns, and so we'll work with all the different organizations involved in that to fill those gaps before the first vessels arrive next April."

In Charlottetown, they are expecting 75 cruise ships starting in April – while the Port of Sydney says their cruise season will start in May.