Port Charlottetown projecting 'another record year' for cruise ships despite coronavirus fears

Port Charlottetown is projecting "another record year" for visiting cruise ships despite concerns about the new coronavirus.

Ninety-seven ships are expected to make a stop in Charlottetown bringing an estimated 154,000 passengers and just over 70,000 crew members. 

Last year, 128,000 passengers visited Charlottetown.

Corryn Clemence, cruise development officer with Port Charlottetown, says there are no indications at this point that fears over the coronavirus will affect the number of ships or passengers expected. 

Wayne Thibodeau/CBC

"I think it's something that everybody is aware of and we're certainly watching," said Clemence. 

"Most of our passengers are predominantly North American. We do get some European and some from Australia but I don't foresee this impacting our region."   

'Might actually be a positive impact'

The port is actually expanding its south berth to meet the increased interest in P.E.I. When the work is completed in June, it will be able to dock two cruise ships at the same time.

Al MacCormick/CBC

Up until now, only one large cruise ship could berth. The other ships would be anchored in Charlottetown harbour and passengers ferried into port.

The project will cost $12 million. 

Brenda Gallant, director of marketing with Tourism P.E.I., said it's early yet, but P.E.I. may actually see an increase in cruise ship traffic because of coronavirus. 

"There's actually some talk around the cruise industry where we might see an increase in cruise in North America as a result of a decrease in cruise in Asia," she said. "So, that might actually be a positive impact." 

'Wait-and-see approach'

Two cruise ships arrive in Charlottetown on April 29, kicking off the 2020 season. There will be four ships over the season making their first-ever stops in the port. The last ship is scheduled to arrive in port Nov. 1

Rick Gibbs/CBC

Brett Tabor, travel agent at Maritime Travel in Charlottetown, said Prince Edward Island residents are taking a "wait-and-see approach" when it comes to booking cruises. He's had a couple of cancellations and business is down this week, which he blames on coronavirus concerns. 

Tabor said he reminds customers that coronavirus or other outbreaks do not just happen on cruise ships.

But, he said, the highly publicized outbreak on board the Diamond Princess — where 600 passengers were quarantined — has caused concerns in the cruise line industry.

"Definitely, people are questioning whether now is the right time to take a cruise," said Tabor.

Deals coming for cruises 

Tabor said he's not going to let concerns over coronavirus stop him from taking two cruises this year, which he has already booked. He's planning cruises to Canada's West Coast and a second cruise to the Middle East. 

"I'm keeping an eye on the situation but, personally, I am still travelling."

Issei Kato/Reuters

The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents more than 50 cruise line companies representing 95 per cent of the cruise ships on the water, said in a statement to CBC News that the industry's "priority right now is on the health and safety of our passengers and crew.

"In addition to the enhanced screening procedures that must be implemented by every CLIA member cruise line as a condition of membership, by the time passengers and crew have reached a cruise ship they have, in many cases, gone through one or more health screenings already — especially those traveling to meet their ships via plane," the statement went on to say.

There may also be an upside to concerns over the coronavirus.  

Tabor said if people want to take a cruise, there will be bargains coming in the months ahead. 

"I think they are coming soon," he said.

"Cruise lines are going to have a bit of trouble filling cabins as much as they would like to so I think there will be some deals."

More from CBC P.E.I.