British Columbia

Cruise ships will return to B.C. in April, following new federal COVID-19 guidelines

The first cruise season in more than two years will start this spring, under COVID guidelines agreed upon by governments, public health authorities and industry. Over 300 ships will bring tourists — and their dollars — to Victoria and Vancouver.

Passengers must be vaccinated and tested before boarding and disembarking the ships

At least 348 cruise ships are expected to stop in Victoria this year. They'll be the first ships to arrive since late 2019, after COVID cancelled both the 2020 and 2021 seasons. (Greater Victoria Harbour Authority)

After months of talks, the federal government has released its COVID-19 rules for cruise ships. Among them: passengers must be vaccinated and tested, and ships must have plans to manage outbreaks. 

It's the last step required before cruise season can officially launch in April. The Canadian and U.S. governments, public health authorities and industry representatives have been discussing the plans since Ottawa officially reopened Canadian waters in November. 

The vaccination and testing requirements align with the rules for those entering the country by land and air. Cruise ship passengers will have to be tested before boarding the ships at their departure points but also before disembarking at both their final destination and other ports of call. 

Jeff Bray, the executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says that last point is a relief. He says most people don't realize that by the time most cruise ships stop in B.C., they're near the end of their trip, and have been at sea for five to seven days — meaning their initial test results don't mean much anymore.

Government Street in downtown Victoria is one of the business districts in Victoria and Vancouver that rely on tourists from cruise ships. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

He says now it's in the cruise line's hands to make sure passengers are tested again before setting foot in Victoria. 

"At the end of the day, these will be COVID negative people who are fully vaccinated, who will be hopefully spending time and money in our city, admiring it and coming back again for a future visit." 

Donna Spalding, who speaks for Cruise Lines International Association North West and Canada, says the industry is happy to comply with the rules. She says cruising has been up and running in more than 90 markets since the summer of 2020. 

"We're really excited about the ships coming back to Canada," said Spalding. "It'll be a boost to the recovery of our tourism industry." 

Spalding says crews will be on the lookout for COVID symptoms, and ships have areas set aside for quarantining if there were to be an outbreak on a ship. 

Ian Robertson, the CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, says it will be up to the Canada Border Services Agency to confirm vaccination and testing before allowing cruise ship passengers to disembark, but GVHA will work closely with them and the cruise lines to make sure that processes are in place. 

"It's been a long two years without cruise," said Robertson, but he says he expects the sector to come back strong. "We're looking to another successful season and a passenger count that will be very close to what we experienced in 2019. 

In 2019, more than 709,042 cruise ship passengers on 257 cruise ships visited Victoria, and  In Vancouver, 288 visits brought more than a million passengers. 

The first ship of the 2022 season is scheduled to stop in Victoria on April 6 and in Vancouver on April 7.