On the Resumption of Cruise in Saint John

Opinion Editorial Published in the Telegraph Journal on April 21, 2021

The COVID-19 virus gave rise to the first pandemic in a century, resulting in the closure of cruise tourism on a global basis.  In Canada, cruise activity originally suspended throughout 2020, will now face a continued suspension through the 2021 season.  Facing a second year without cruise is a grim prospect for small tourism and hospitality businesses which support so many dimensions of the tourism industry.  While initial shock waves of this loss washed over the hospitality sector last year, sentiment remained strong that stopping the spread of the virus was a necessary course of action for the safety of people and our health care systems.

As the pandemic wore on and as destinations, ports, and private sector industry partners began to discuss what a plan for resumption would look like, it became clear that the road back to a strong cruise sector would require a collective coordinated effort.  Ports like Saint John are a transportation conduit connecting visitors with experiences ashore. While our role is to provide the pier and supporting infrastructure, a wide variety of supporting businesses provide service to the ship, and to guests and crew on board.

Fortunately, in the port industry, the Association of Canadian Port Authorities (ACPA) immediately provided the medium and opportunity to build a coalition of cruise ports in Canada.  Canadian cruise ports range in size, scope, and governance and some had no prior connection to ACPA, a membership-based organization usually focused only on Canada’s 17 Canada Port Authorities.  Given the need for a common voice, this membership factor was set aside as a new ACPA committee, the Cruise Ports Committee, was formed to include ports large and small who have the commonality of being a port that services cruise.   The Committee brings front-line knowledge and experience to Government to assist them with decision making for the time when it is safe to move forward on a resumption plan.

This is a historic initiative that brings together all ports and regional entities involved in the cruise industry from across Canada as one voice engaged in meaningful dialogue.  The Cruise Ports Committee is focused on affecting solutions necessary to keep everyone safe, while monitoring the vaccine roll out and the status of the pandemic.  In doing so, the Committee is creating detailed protocols for cruise ship visits, including protocols for shore excursions and emergency response at ports.  Establishing these protocols is vital regardless of the current stage of the pandemic, as they will allow the industry to be ready for the future and a sustainable return to cruising.

Coalition on cruise resumption does not stop at Canadian borders. Cruises arriving in Canada sail, for the most part, from US ports.  On this coast, Saint John, together with partner ports in Atlantic Canada, are part of the Canada/New England itinerary and belong the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association.  As this itinerary also includes American ports on the North East, we closely monitor the work of our partner ports in the US as they move to restart the industry.  We accomplish this again through association work by continuing our decades long involvement with American cruise port partners through the American Association of Port Authorities and with our cruise line partners through the Cruise Lines International Association.

On a local level, opening dialogue with local industry and stakeholders in our city and region is also critically important.  To achieve this in a proactive and systematic way, Port Saint John has formed the Cruise Saint John Business and Community Liaison Committee.  We are also maintaining open channels of communication with port operational partners and government officials.   These initiatives are critical to ensure factual and deliberate information flow to businesses and the public as we move step by step towards the safe resumption of cruise.

Tourism is a highly important sector of our Provincial economy and cruise was a large component of that sector.  We have long been told by our cruise industry that Saint John is highly appealing to cruisers due to our reputation as a safe and friendly destination.  Add to this the natural attractions in the Bay of Fundy such as the Fundy Trail Parkway, the historic charm of our city, and a waterfront that is continually being improved, such as the opening of Place Fort LaTour this year, and we will continue to have strong appeal.

We know that cruise is not alone. All segments of the travel industry in Canada have experienced widespread loss and impact to employment and small business.  No one knows for sure when cruising will resume, but together our industry is optimistic that, when the time is right and it is safe to do so, cruise will be back.  When that happens, we will look forward to welcoming cruise lines, their guests, and crew back to our port cities and local communities and at that time our prior reputation as a safe destination will serve us well in a new context.

Opinion Editorial by Andrew Dixon, Senior Vice President, Trade & Business Development, Port Saint John

Andrew also serves as Committee Chair for the Association of Canadian Port Authorities’ Cruise Port Committee and Acting Committee Chair for the American Association of Port Authorities’ Cruise Committee