Nova Scotia

Cruise ships set to return to Cape Breton this week

The cruise industry contributes more than $50 million in revenue for the CBRM. For the last two years, the Port of Sydney has experienced massive losses.

Viking Octantis will call on Louisbourg on April 21

A cruise ship is shown docked at Port of Sydney. (Holly Conners/CBC)

The first cruise ship of the season will be docking in Cape Breton on Thursday following a two-year hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Port of Sydney, the Viking Octantis will be the first cruise ship to visit a port in Atlantic Canada since the end of 2019. The vessel will dock in Louisbourg on April 21.

The Port of Sydney has 83 scheduled cruises this year with more than 180,000 passengers expected. 

Transport Canada announced sweeping changes and regulations when the pandemic began in 2020. For many businesses and tourist operators, the loss of two seasons resulted in large financial losses. 

"It's come to the end and we are really feeling the pinch," said Marlene Usher, CEO for the Port of Sydney. "It's a welcome return."

The Port of Sydney lost about $330,000 last year. 

Usher said the port relies heavily on the cruise industry, with most revenue coming from vessels calling on Sydney. For businesses in the downtown area, and surrounding counties, that cruise traffic pays dividends.

Usher said 2022 likely won't be a banner year, but it will start to heal some wounds. "It also means that the economic impact, which for Cape Breton was around $56 million, will come back to Cape Breton," she said.

Businesses in downtown Sydney are looking forward to the increase in cruise traffic. (Robert Short/CBC)

Many new businesses have opened in the downtown area in anticipation for the new NSCC Marconi campus. But the foot traffic that comes off the cruise ships is an added bonus.

"So I think about the bookstore, the grocery store, there's a maternity store, there's so many new businesses, restaurants, what have you in that downtown core who haven't been able to experience the benefits of the cruise industry," said Amanda McDougall, mayor for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. 

The Highland Village Museum in Iona welcomes thousands of tourists that come from the boats.

In 2020, the museum was down 90 per cent in visitor numbers from 2019. There was a small increase in visitors last year.

"The cruise ship traffic to Iona is big for us," said museum director Rodney Chaisson. "In 2019, it represented 38 per cent of our visitation."

Usher said Transport Canada has rules around testing and isolating if cruise passengers are showing any symptoms. She said a ship experiencing an outbreak on board is not likely to call on Sydney.