Ship sail

Return of cruise ships sparks excitement in British Columbia’s tourism industry

Vancouver is days away from marking a pandemic milestone, one the struggling tourism industry has been eagerly awaiting. The restart of the cruise season is coming next week, and while there will be changes for travellers, hopefully it will be the first step in rebuilding a sector that was once worth billions to the economy of British Columbia.

The Caribbean Princess is scheduled to arrive in Vancouver next Thursday, after calling in Victoria.

The last cruise ships left local waters in 2019, then the pandemic ended the 2020 season before the ships had a chance to return to British Columbia.

Tourism Industry Association of BC CEO Walt Judas said cruise ships generate just under $3 billion in economic activity for the province each year, with the majority of passengers departing from Vancouver coming from the outside of Canada.

“They are the big spenders,” he said. “They are the ones who stay in hotels, eat in restaurants, use transportation companies, go to attractions, frequent retailers. There’s a whole ecosystem built around cruising, and it’s so vital to our province every year.

This season will come with some changes for passengers. Although vaccinated travelers entering Canada to board a cruise will no longer be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test as of April 1, they will still be required to test before boarding the ship: a molecular test within 72 hours, or an antigen test within the day.

Cruise Lines International Association lawyer Barry Penner said this was not a new measure.

“This requirement is pretty standard now. Most of the six million people who have sailed in the last year and a half around the world have had to be tested before getting on a ship, ”he said. “It adds an extra step to the boarding process, but in the United States, where cruising resumed last year, testing was required before boarding a ship.”

Penner said the industry hopes there might be some streamlining when it comes to the ArriveCan app.

“For the majority of people leaving Vancouver, meaning anyone coming from outside of Canada, they will have to go through two ArriveCan application processes, he tells us,” he said. “One before entering YVR or crossing the land border, and another before getting on the ship…would be nice to see if there’s a way to combine those two into one, so people don’t have to fumble with their phone when they line up at Place du Canada.

Cruise ship crew and passengers must also be fully immunized, with some exceptions, according to the new federal guidelines, and self-monitor for symptoms. Cruise lines are responsible for testing suspected cases on board and isolating confirmed cases.

Penner said cruising has already resumed in more than 90 different markets around the world over the past two years.

“Canada is one of the last countries in the world where cruises will resume,” he said. “There will be a few more ships (in BC) in April and then a real recovery starting in May when we get back to a regular season.”

Judas said it remains to be seen how full these ships are, at least initially.

“They might not be at full capacity, if only because people want to feel comfortable cruising again,” he said. “Ideally, as we see the first cruise ships depart in the coming weeks, people will gain that trust.”