Nova Scotia

Port of Halifax looks to Europe as example of how cruise ships could return in 2021

After not being able to welcome a single cruise ship in 2020, officials with the Port of Halifax are hoping for a rebound — no matter how slight — in 2021.

Fewer passengers, bubbled land excursions being used in Europe

After a record-setting season in 2019, not a single cruise ship was arrived in Halifax in 2020 due to COVID-19. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

The CEO of the Port of Halifax is hopeful cruise ship travel could safely return in 2021, a point he's made to the federal and provincial governments.

Speaking to reporters after appearing before a committee at Province House on Tuesday, Capt. Allan Gray said he's sent briefing notes to the federal government and provincial governments in Atlantic Canada about how port officials believe the industry could return next year.

Gray said they're watching what's happening in Europe with interest, where cruises have resumed with reduced vessel capacity and land excursions that are prearranged for passengers and operate under strict controls.

"They're an extension of the existing bubble, of the ship's bubble," he said.

"What we're used to here in Halifax is the fact that a vessel turns up and lots of people ... walk through the city and spend time on the waterfront … At this stage, what we're seeing is it's only organized tours that are being allowed by the cruise lines."

Gray said he's aware of some cruise lines already contacting local tour operators to discuss what would be expected if a resumption were to take place in 2021. He said some bookings are beginning to happen.

Capt. Allan Gray says he's talking with the federal and provincial governments about ways to safely resume cruise ship service in 2021. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

Cruise ships were not permitted here this year in an attempt to tackle the pandemic and prevent spread of the coronavirus. It was a crushing blow for the economy. In 2018, direct spending by the industry associated with the port was $74.3 million, according to an economic impact study the port commissioned.

"We realize that it won't be at full [capacity], but there's an opportunity," said Gray.

"But we have to get our ducks in a row."

Along with getting approval from the federal government to allow ships to resume service here, Gray said the industry would also need co-ordinated public health guidelines among Ottawa and the various provinces where ships might call.

"For a vessel that goes over several provinces, they're going to need the same rules in each place," he said.

The biggest hurdle will be convincing public health that should COVID-19 be detected on a ship, the operator has the appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with it and the pressure won't be put on the provincial system, said Gray.