Port cities whose small businesses depend on tourists were dealt a blow Thursday as Transport Canada announced it is extending a ban on cruise ships for another year.
Passenger vessels carrying 100 or more people are now prohibited from operating in Canadian waters until Feb. 28, 2022.
The ban first came into effect last May, effectively shutting down the 2020 season in Nova Scotia. The extension also affects passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people in Arctic coastal waters.
Federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the shutdown will allow public health officials to focus on the most pressing issues, including the vaccine rollout and new COVID-19 variants.
"Temporary prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure craft are essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable among our communities and avoid overwhelming our health care systems," Alghabra said in a news release.
"This is the right and responsible thing to do."
To limit the spread of COVID-19, Ottawa is encouraging residents to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice.
Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil said Thursday the ban was disappointing, but not surprising.
"Protecting the health and safety of our citizens is top priority, especially as we continue to roll out the vaccine," McNeil said in a statement to CBC News.
Marlene Usher, CEO for the Port of Sydney Development Corp., said she had hoped Transport Canada would hold off on making a final decision.
"I was hoping that they would wait further into the year to see if there would be some more progress with a vaccine and possibly cruise could return to some extent," said Usher.
"But it wasn't a complete surprise, because we had been aware for some time that the pandemic is very prevalent in the U.S. and Canada."
Usher said the ban means that for the second consecutive year, the port corporation will lose 70 per cent of its revenues.
That means an average loss of $2 million per year, based on 2019 statistics.
Hoping for government help
"We will be talking to the federal government and the provincial government to see if there is assistance, but in any event we will find a way to remain open and ... plan for the future," she said.
Usher said more than 100 vessels are already signed on the for the 2022 season.
Similarly, Lane Farguson of the Halifax Port Authority said booking interest for 2022 has already begun.
Farguson said the Halifax port was hoping the federal ban wouldn't extend into the 2021 season, but it was preparing for it.
"I can't call it a surprise," Farguson said in an interview. "When we did our budgeting for 2021, we looked at the possibility that we wouldn't see any cruise vessel calls for a second year in a row, and in terms of fiscal planning, that's where we landed."
Farguson said if the COVID-19 situation improves and the federal government rescinds the ban, the port could turn things around quickly in order to welcome cruises for a shorter season.
"If we get the green light, I think everybody would be really really happy to take on that challenge," he said.
The port authority's largest business branch is not cruise ships, but cargo, which Farguson said is going strong. He said he expects the economic hit of another non-existent cruise season will be more apparent by lost spinoff business in the tourism and hospitality industries across the province.
In 2019, Halifax's port docked 179 cruise ships carrying more than 300,000 passengers, many of whom ate at local restaurants, shopped at local businesses or took bus trips outside the city to spots like Peggys Cove or the Annapolis Valley.
Johanna Galipeau said her clothing store in downtown Halifax, Sweet Pea Boutique, usually sees a 30 per cent rise in business during the cruise season. She said news of the 2021 season being cancelled was disappointing, "but we just have to do what we have to do to get through this."
Galipeau said Nova Scotia is great at supporting local businesses, but many operations, including hers, rely on the additional revenue from tourists.
She said she expects another slow summer will spell disaster for some.
"There are some businesses that really bank on that June to September, October tourist season to make it through the winter, and now they don't have another one — it's going to be rough. I think you're going to see a lot more closures this year."
MORE TOP STORIES