Cape Breton tourism operators worried after cruise ship season cancelled

·2 min read

Tourism operators in Cape Breton are becoming increasingly worried about keeping their doors open now that the upcoming cruise ship season has been cancelled for a second straight year.

Last week, the federal government announced no cruise ships would be allowed in Canadian waters in 2021.

Cape Breton was poised before the COVID-19 pandemic to have its best cruise season ever in 2020 due to the completion of a second cruise ship berth in Sydney, and many operators prepared for this by upgrading facilities.

The Cape Breton Miners Museum in Glace Bay, for instance, had an underground mine simulator installed so those with mobility issues could experience the mine without having to go for the underground tour.

Instead, executive director Mary Pat Mombourquette said the museum's earned revenue is down 95 per cent.

"In 2019, we made in earned revenue close to $200,000, and last year we made less than $20,000," said Mombourquette.

George Mortimer/CBC
George Mortimer/CBC

She said the museum puts 70 per cent of its revenue toward operations, and there is a real possibility it won't survive the year unless it receives some help.

Dan Coffin, the tourism and development officer for the Municipality of the County of Victoria, said the county's information centre in Baddeck counselled just 2,076 visitors in 2020, compared to over 18,000 in 2019.

Coffin said it's now difficult for operators to know what resources they need. Previously, operators would know how many cruise ship passengers would be visiting on a particular day.

"There's a lot of planning that can go into that and without that, they had to be a little more lean on staffing and cut back their hours in some cases," said Coffin.

Brent Kelloway/CBC
Brent Kelloway/CBC

The Highland Village Museum in Iona is a part of the Nova Scotia Museum and did receive government funding, which allowed it to keep all its staff on. However, the museum had to cut down its season and had staff work other jobs like painting and repairing.

Rodney Chiasson, the director at the Highland Village, said the season will continue to be shorter if visitors are only coming from within the Atlantic region.

"We didn't really make it up within the Atlantic bubble because people were too shy to do things indoors," said Chiasson.

Brent Kelloway/CBC
Brent Kelloway/CBC

Carabin's & Transoverland, a bus, motor coach charter and rental business based in Reserve Mines, provides tours around Cape Breton to cruise ship passengers.

Operations manager Mitch Carabin said the company is losing out on 40 per cent of its revenue with no cruise ships docking.

"In the peak of our crew season, we have up to 40 people working for us. That hits home with me that they're not working," said Carabin.