Nova Scotia

Cancelled cruise season is huge loss for Nova Scotia tourism season

COVID-19 has sunk Nova Scotia's cruise ship season for 2020, taking millions of dollars out of the local economy.

'This year was supposed to be the best year so far,' says Port of Sydney CEO Marlene Usher

Cunard Cruise Line's Queen Mary 2 is seen in Halifax on July 10, 2015. No cruise ships will be in Nova Scotia's waters until at least October because of an announcement made Friday morning by the federal government that effectively shuts down the season. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

COVID-19 has sunk Nova Scotia's cruise ship season for 2020, taking millions of dollars out of the local economy. 

The Halifax Port Authority was expecting a record-breaking year. It anticipated 350,000 tourists coming to the city aboard the 203 cruise ships scheduled to visit.

Now it will be a record-breaking year for all the wrong reasons. 

The Halifax Port Authority expects its cruise traffic to be reduced to zero after an announcement by the federal government Friday morning. Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau announced cruise ships with overnight accommodations for more than 100 people will not be allowed to operate in Canadian waters until Oct. 31, 2020.

The restrictions are meant to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

Lane Farguson is a spokesperson for the Halifax Port Authority. (CBC)

"It is being done in the interest of public health, we certainly recognize that, we accept it," said Lane Farguson, a spokesperson for the port authority. "It's just at the same time, we can't help be a little disappointed."

Economic impact studies done by the port show the cruise ship industry brings in about $165 million a year to Halifax and the surrounding area.

That money is generated from things such as port fees, passengers paying for tours of the region, along with crew and passengers buying local goods, said Farguson.    

"That is an amount the region will not be able to capitalize on this year," he said.

Farguson couldn't say how much money the Halifax port could lose because of the industry-wide shutdown. He said the port authority makes money from their three main lines of business: cargo, cruise and real estate.

The Port of Sydney will remain empty this cruise ship season. (Brent Kelloway/CBC)

"When you take one of those out of the mix, there's no question there will be a hit," said Farguson. "Fortunately, we are diverse in that regard and we will certainly be looking to those other lines of business to help out."   

The majority of the port's revenue comes from its cargo operations.

It's a different story at the Port of Sydney, N.S., where much of its revenue comes from the cruise industry.

"All of our cruise ships will be cancelled," said port CEO Marlene Usher. "This year was supposed to be the best year so far with 118 visits and that means that we'll have 78 to 80 per cent of our revenue gone."

She said any business that relies on cruise traffic will suffer a loss, such as restaurants and boardwalk merchants.

The massive cruise ship Anthem of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean International, dwarfs HMCS Ville de Québec, a Halifax-class frigate, in Halifax on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016.

"It was extremely important for them because they had all ramped up, purchased goods, spent — in some cases —hundreds of thousands of dollars in anticipation of hosting 200,000-plus visitors," she said.

As a result of the cruise season being cancelled, the Halifax Port Authority will not hire any temporary workers this year. However, the 80 or so permanent staff working for the port authority will keep their jobs, but will be diverted to other tasks that don't involve the port's cruise operations.

After the disruptions caused by COVID-19, Farguson said he believes it could take years to get the cruise industry back in full swing.

"It's going to be two or three years to rebuild the industry to what it was," he said. "Certainly, that's where we're going to be focusing our efforts now. What can we do to make sure that we're ready and in a good position to handle a restart of the cruise industry in 2021."

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With files from Brent Kelloway

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