Tourism operators in holding pattern because of cruise ship uncertainty

Tourism operators who work alongside the cruise industry on P.E.I. were already facing delays to the cruise ship season but are planning for all eventualities.

Season already delayed until July 1 before stricter non-essential travel restrictions put in place

Port Charlottetown had been billing the 2020 cruise ship season as its 'biggest year yet,' with 97 visits scheduled, and the first two ships set to drop anchor April 29. All that changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (CBC)

There is still a lot of uncertainty for P.E.I. tourism operators that rely on the business generated by the thousands of visitors that arrive each year on cruise ships.

In 2019, officials called it a record-breaking year when cruise ships brought 128,000 to P.E.I.

This year, because of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government announced in March that vessels visiting Canada carrying more than 500 passengers will not be allowed to dock from April 2 to July 1.

Over the course of the pandemic, all non-essential travel — including tourism — is restricted. The federal government is also advising people to avoid all travel on cruise ships until further notice.

All that leaves businesses and organizations that work alongside the cruise industry in a holding pattern.

"We have been put on pause for a couple of months," said Corryn Clemence, cruise development, communications and brand manager for Port Charlottetown.

"Until we hear otherwise, we're planning for that July 1 opening. We really haven't heard much since that."

Planning during uncertainty

Clemence said they have been in communication with other ports in the region to check in on one another and talk about plans moving forward.

But, she said much can change in the coming months as the province, country and world deal with the pandemic.

Port Charlottetown sees the ships into port, Clemence said, but what really makes it successful is all the tourism operators on the Island.

"We know that they rely heavily on the cruise business so I certainly believe that there are those that are concerned that the industry has been paused."

Corryn Clemence with Port Charlotteotown says they are still planning for a July 1 start of the season until they hear otherwise. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Passengers who disembark in Charlottetown often try local food and entertainment. Smaller businesses are looking at other ways to keep going if the cruise ships are further delayed.

"There is a little bit of fear for the summer but we're trying to be as adaptable as we can," said Jalen MacLeod, co-owner of Truckin' Roll Ice Cream.

"We're looking at other ways and there's a lot of local support in the community.... There is a little bit of fear but it is kind of pushing us into other areas that we haven't been."

Adapting in new directions

MacLeod operates a food truck during the summer months and a year-round fixed location at Founders Food Hall in Charlottetown.

"I think the absence of the cruise ships will definitely be notable but I'm hoping with the absence of the cruise ships and less people travelling outside of P.E.I. and Atlantic Canada that maybe more people will be having their summer vacation as a local staycation."

Vendors like Truckin’ Roll say they are concerned but will be looking to adapt to the changes to ensure they can continue. (John Robertson/CBC)

When some passengers from the cruise ships arrive, they may also quickly jump onto waiting buses to be taken for scenic drives to popular destinations on the Island — like Green Gables Heritage Place.

"We have earmarked 15 buses a day for Charlottetown," said Mike Cassidy, owner of Coach Atlantic Maritime Bus. His company also prepares 25 for the port in Halifax.

"So that is 40 buses that we have in our lineup of 275 vehicles that we know, have to be ready, willing and able to go to work when — and if — the cruise ships arrive this year," Cassidy said.

Passengers disembarking from a cruise ship can explore Charlottetown or hop into transportation to get around the Island. (CBC)

He estimates that in busing alone for the Maritime ports of Halifax, Sydney and Charlottetown, the revenue is more than $4 million a season.

But this year, because of the delays and possible closures, tough decisions had to be made.

"We laid off close to 50 people six weeks ago," Cassidy said. "But what really hurts me is that we would be inviting back 350 to 400 employees next month and that invitation for 2020 cannot go out because I have no business to give my staff that return each and ever year to our business in May."

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Brian Higgins


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