Nfld. & Labrador

Cancelled cruise season hits Corner Brook economy hard

This is usually the season when dozens of cruise ships dock in Corner Brook, bringing millions of dollars to the area. But COVID-19 has suspended all cruises this year.

Port corporation estimates $10M loss

Jennifer Hartley, the Corner Brook Port Corporation's business development manager, says the city's economy lost out on millions from the cruise industry this summer. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The suspended cruise ship season is a major money loss for the tourism sector in Corner Brook, according to the Corner Brook Port Corporation's business development manager.

Jennifer Hartley says the corporation expected to improve on the 2019 season's $7.7-million economic impact, which includes direct and indirect expenditures.

"We were on track to be at 10 million this year. So very significant losses for the region," said Hartley on Friday.

The port corporation was on track to have its largest cruise season, with more than 20 ships scheduled to visit in 2020, but the provincial government temporarily suspended cruise ship visits in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a ban that was extended through the rest of the summer season in May.

Cruise lines book ports two to five years in advance. Hartley says Corner Brook did see some cancellations in the winter but when everything was officially suspended by May, it was a big hit to jobs and businesses in the city on Newfoundland's west coast.

Big impact

"You'd be surprised by how many people are involved in making the passenger experience a great one," Hartley said.

"As soon as the ship is docked, we have a cruise welcoming committee that are there to provide information and welcome and man our information booth and provide what passengers need to learn about our community."

Corner Brook usually sees about 20 cruise ships this time of year but the pandemic has cancelled all cruise line visits this year. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Passengers are then usually greeted by traditional musicians and dozens of local vendors that sell Newfoundland and Labrador crafts.

Jeff Smith sells intricate pens and bottle openers made out of moose antlers, a hobby that takes up hours of his time in the months leading up to cruise ship season.

"It probably takes me four or five months to get ready for a two-month season, and this year is a zero season," said Smith.

Smith says he usually makes a couple thousand dollars from tourists aboard the larger cruise ships but this year he is just sitting on a garage filled with product.

Jeff Smith, who sells his unique moose antler pens and trinkets to passengers aboard the cruise ships, says he's out thousands of dollars in expected revenue this year. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

The economic loss is felt not only by local vendors but bus operators and taxi services that would usually transport tourists as far as Gros Morne National Park and back.

For sale

Many tourists would bus around the city and stop at the the Newfoundland Emporium craft shop and museum on Broadway. 

Owner David Ledrew is selling the emporium, partly because business is just so slow.

"It's not desperate but it's not very good. The problem is you have to have a really good summer in order to carry you through the other period that is usually dead. Small town, getting smaller all the time. And the store is big," Ledrew said. 

David Ledrew, who owns the Newfoundland Emporium on Broadway, is selling the store, partly because business is so slow. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Ledrew says his sister store in Halifax is losing a lot of money because that port usually receives hundreds of cruise ships each season.

Instead of cruise ships, the Corner Brook port is a sea of brightly coloured container ships. 

Hartley says the Port Corporation is able to offset some of this year's loss with a new agreement with the Mediterranean Shipping Company, a Geneva-based company shipping cargo containers worldwide.

"We were still able to execute that project and bring in these vessels to export and import containers, so we were able to offset some of that loss, that shortfall," she said. 

2021?

The loss of the cruise ships and their economic boost to Corner Brook may be felt again next year, if COVID-19 is still rampant. Hartley believes the cruise line industry may be hit hard in 2021 as well.

"We have cruise lines scheduled to visit Corner Brook next year because they book so far in advance. We are keeping the line of communication open to all the other ports in the region but some of us are expecting another suspension for 2021 because it is possible. We really don't know what's going to happen," she said.

The Corner Brook Port Corporation is waiting for more direction from Transport Canada. In the meantime, staff will prepare to introduce COVID-19 safety measures for the 2021 cruise season.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.

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