Canada to end cruise ship ban in November

Jul 15 2021, 8:39 pm

The COVID-19 measure of banning cruise ships from entering Canada will be rescinded in time for cruise ship companies to ramp up their planning and operations for the full launch of the 2022 cruising season.

The Canadian federal government announced today the cruise ship ban will end on November 1, 2021, which was previously slated to continue through February 28, 2022. But cruise ship operators are required to fully comply with public health requirements.

“As Canadians have done their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to safely restart our economy and build back better,” said Omar Alghabra, Canada’s federal Minister of Transport, in a statement.

“We will welcome cruise ships — an important part of our tourism sector — back in Canadian waters for the 2022 season.”

Cruise ships have been banned from docking at Canadian ports since March 19, 2020, the onset of the pandemic.

Canada’s cruise ship industry is largely centred in Vancouver and Victoria, with itineraries  mainly reaching Alaska.

There has been pressure from British Columbia and jurisdictions across the border for the federal government to allow cruise ships to return to Canada earlier than February 2022 to provide certainty and predictability for the full restart of the cruise ship industry, including allowing sufficient lead time for bookings. The Alaska cruise ship season, with Vancouver serving as a major homeport and Victoria as a port of a call, is typically in full swing by late April and sees its last sailing in October.

In May, new US legislation pushed forward by Alaskan officials allowed cruise ships to bypass BC ports, temporarily suspending the longstanding policy of requiring US-departing cruises bound for Alaska to make a stop in Canada. In a bid to salvage at least a portion of the 2021 cruise season to support tourism-dependent communities, officials in Alaska pursued this legislation after Canadian officials refused to allow cruise ships to make technical stops at BC ports without anyone leaving the vessel.

And just last month, new bills were introduced in the US senate to permanently repeal and reform the 1886 Passenger Vessel Services Act that mandates cruise ships to call at a foreign port between the stops at US ports. This proposal is intended to bring more economic benefits to American port cities that would otherwise go to Canada and Mexico.


Cruise ships at Canada Place in downtown Vancouver. (Shutterstock)

The Canadian federal government’s decision to end the cruise ship ban four months early follows heavy lobbying from the BC government, the cruise ship industry, local port officials, and the threat of a permanent change to the Passenger Vessel Services Act, which would particularly impact Victoria as it is not a major home port unlike Vancouver.

“I would like to thank the federal government for working collaboratively and constructively with us, and for taking action on this issue that is an important part of BC’s economy,” said Rob Fleming, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“We know that cruise ship passengers want a Canadian experience in British Columbia, and we know that British Columbians want to welcome them to our cities when it is safe to do so.”

A significant proportion of the tourism and hospitality industries in Vancouver and Victoria are driven by the seasonal surge in cruise ship passengers.

Each ship that visits Canada Place in downtown Vancouver 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.

In 2019, Victoria saw 709,000 passengers and 295,000 crew on a total of 257 cruise ship calls.

“Our local economy has definitely taken a hit, but thanks to residents shopping local and supporting their friends and neighbours businesses, many businesses are still making it work,” said Victoria mayor Lisa Helps.

“My thanks to the federal government for doing the necessary work to keep Canadians safe during the pandemic, but also for understanding how much the cruise industry means to the entire south island and for making this announcement today to give predictability and certainty to the industry going forward.”

Other sizeable Canadian cruise ship ports include Quebec City (237,000 passengers on 150 ship calls in 2019), Montreal (113,000 passengers on 76 ship calls in 2019), and Halifax (324,000 passengers on 179 calls).

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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