There are concerns over any possible permanent ramifications of new US legislation that allows cruise ships bound for Alaska to bypass British Columbia ports for the period the US-Canada border remains closed.
The Alaska Tourism Recovery Act was passed by the US Senate last week, and on Thursday it was also approved by the US House of Representatives. The act will now be sent to President Joe Biden for its signing.
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Cruise ships usually stop in Vancouver, Victoria or Prince Rupert on their way to Alaska, but this is currently not possible with the Canadian federal government’s ban on these vessels until at least February 28, 2022 — a policy that has been in effect since the middle of March 2020 in response to the onset of the pandemic and the coronavirus outbreaks on cruises.
The act provides a temporary exemption through February 2022 from the policies, but there are concerns this could become permanent in a move that benefits US destinations.
The legislation was introduced by Alaskan senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, who wanted to save at least a portion of the economic benefits that struggling Alaskan tourism-dependent communities — Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Anchorage — typically see this time of year from cruise ships.
On May 11, the senators wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, initially seeking a compromise by having Alaska-bound vessels stop at a BC port for at least four hours but without allowing any passengers to disembark.
“We ask Canada to enable an exemption process, with the ability to expedite, for
Conditional Sailing Certificated cruise ships,” reads the letter.
“While we have sought a temporary legislative fix to the domestic laws that require a port call in Canada, our long-term goal is to keep the system of mutually beneficial tourism between our two great nations intact. We believe that your acceptance of our proposed solution is preferable to any legislative fix that may disrupt that system.”
However, Ottawa did not address their concerns, which led to quickly push for the act as a measure of last resort.
Premier John Horgan and BC Tourism Minister Melanie Mark have also been criticized in recent days for earlier remarks predicting that the act would not pass in the US chambers.
BC cruise industry officials have suggested that there is no guarantee there would not be an effort to give the exemptions some permanency, allowing Alaskan communities to receive more of the benefits of cruise tourism.
In this permanent scenario, Vancouver’s cruise ship industry would see less of an impact compared to other BC communities, as it is primarily a homeport rather than a port of call like Victoria.
But prior to COVID-19, the cruise ship industry in Seattle had been making headway over Vancouver’s industry, with the expansion of cruise ship terminal facilities and the ability to accommodate new generation vessels that are larger.
In a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized, the BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport states “the legislation is clear that the changes would be automatically rescinded when Canadian ports are reopened to cruise ships. The provincial government shares a common desire with the people of Alaska to see a safe return to the cruise ship industry to the benefit of both of our regions.”
The Ministry states provincial officials have been in discussion with their American counterparts, and Horgan is meeting an Alaskan senator on Tuesday to discuss this particular matter and other issues.
BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming has also spoken to federal officials about the logistics of the previously proposed technical stops.
“The province will continue to support and defend BC’s tourism industry and all the people, businesses, and communities who depend on it,” continues the statement.
Vancouver’s cruise ship industry accounts for a significant proportion of BC’s tourism activity and overnight hotel stays. Each ship that visits Canada Place creates about $3 million in local economic activity — everything from passenger spending on retail, restaurants, attractions, and hotels to cruise ship spending on replenishing their food and supplies.
Roughly 350,000 hotel-night stays in Vancouver in 2019 were attributed to the cruise ship operations. About 120 ships with over 800,000 passengers visit Canada Place each year.
Direct and indirect activities spurred by the cruise industry support about 7,000 jobs and $2.2 billion in total economic impact.