Canada's cruise ship ban affects over 250,000 passengers in Vancouver

Mar 13 2020, 1:54 pm

The federal government’s unprecedented decision today to ban all major cruise ships in the wake of the growing COVID-19 pandemic cuts down on a very substantial chunk of British Columbia’s tourism industry-supporting cruise ship sector.

It is estimated over 250,000 passengers on over 30 ships across about 120 visits to the Canada Place cruise ship terminal will be affected by the ban, which has immediate effect and will last until the very end of June, when the ban will be revisited.

The ban is currently in place for vessels carrying 500 people — both passengers and crews combined. While it applies to ferries as well, BC Ferries is not impacted by the decision.

Cruise ships are essentially floating cities; nearly all cruise ships that visit Vancouver carry thousands of passengers alone, plus a typical crew size of at least about 1,000 people to support the guests.

The smallest of the cruise ships are the Roald Amundsen, Silver Muse, and Seaboum Sojoum, which each have configurations for under 1,000 passengers and crew.

The most significant losses will be to Disney Cruise Lines’ Disney Wonder and Holland America’s MS Koningsdam. The Disney Wonder with its capacity for 2,400 passengers was scheduled to make eight sailings totalling up to 19,200 passengers, while the MS Koningsdam with a capacity of up to 4,000 passengers would have brought up to 36,000 passengers during its nine sailings.

The coronavirus-stricken Grand Princess of Princess Cruise Lines was scheduled to make five visits during this period, totalling up to 15,500 passengers. This includes the inaugural 2020 cruise season sailing on April 2.

The federal government’s blanket ban comes a day after Princess Cruise Lines cancelled all of its sailings around the world through May 10.

In 2019, the Port of Vancouver saw nearly 1.1 million cruise ship passengers on 290 ship visits, which was an all-time record — a 21% increase over the 2018 cruise season.

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 last year were attributed to the cruise ship operations.

Direct and indirect activities spurred by the cruise industry support about 7,000 jobs, $300 million in wages, contributes over $800 million to national GDP, and generate tax revenues for all three levels of government.

Representatives with the Port of Vancouver and the Vancouver Hotel Destination Association were unable to immediately provide a comment on the impact of today’s new federal policies.

However, Charles Gauthier, the president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, says his organization continues to learn from the quickly evolving situation.

“As of yet, we have not heard from our members about the effect that COVID-19 is having on the downtown core, and we are not able to speculate what the short and long-term impacts of this pandemic will be to our business members,” he said.

“With new information being released on a daily—and in some cases, hourly— basis, we are staying apprised of all relevant announcements, particularly from Vancouver Coastal Health and Health Canada. We will monitor the situation closely and follow advice from health authorities.”

The national ban also applies to cruise ships visiting Victoria, where over 700,000 cruise ship passengers were recorded in 2019.

Cruise port facilities in Quebec City and Halifax saw 200,000 passengers and 324,000 passengers, respectively, last year.