Cruise ships will return next year, but it won’t be business as usual

On Sunday, May 11, 2022, the Pearl Mist will arrive in Saint John Harbor, officially ending a two-year drought for the city’s cruise ship season and the enormous economic boost it provides.

But it won’t be business as usual.

Much has changed since the cruise ship season was officially canceled due to the pandemic, and the city’s commerce and tourism leaders are bracing for a new normal that no one yet fully understands.

Andrew Dixon, senior vice-president of commerce and business development at Port Saint John, says he is “thrilled” that cruises are returning to Canada’s fourth busiest cruise port, but concedes there are uncharted waters at navigate in the coming months.

“We will have a lot of discussions with cruise officials to make sure we have a 2022 season as strong as expected,” Dixon said in an interview with Saint John Morning Information.

“Currently we have a schedule of 70 calls, which in a pre-pandemic year would represent 180,000 passengers,” he said.

But “the real wild card” is the limit that will be placed on the capacity, ”Dixon said.

“Are they going to be 75%, 85%, 90% full? This remains to be determined. ”

Andrew Dixon, senior vice-president of business development at Port Saint John, says he is “delighted” that cruises are returning to Canada’s fourth busiest cruise port. (Submitted by Port Saint John)

High bar vaccination

Additionally, Dixon said, there is some inequality in the level of vaccination that cruise ships require of their passengers, although most have set the bar high.

“It depends on the cruise line,” he said. “The Centers for Disease Control have prescriptive rules that must be followed, but in most cases the lines require either … 95 percent vaccination on passengers and 98 percent on the crew, or some lines have opted for 100 percent vaccination.

Port authorities are keenly aware of security concerns and are closely monitoring developments around the world as cruises restart in places like Europe and parts of Asia.

Dixon said the long track to May 2022 will be an invaluable benefit, giving them nine and a half months to figure out where the hiccups are – and then cure them.

The ships that sail now “set the operational program, they get experience,” said Dixon, who is also chair of the National Cruise Committee of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities.

This committee monitors cruises already underway and develops a set of security protocols for cruise ports in Canada.

“We presented this to Transport Canada, [with] the lessons from everything that is happening in Europe and the expertise of all operational people across the country, ”he said.

“We want everyone to be comfortable and understand exactly what’s going to happen, and we are very confident that by then we will have the appropriate protocols reduced.”

Paulette Hicks, CEO of regional economic development agency Envision Saint John, says there have been discussions at all levels around the safe return of cruises. (SRC)

New Brunswick’s handling of COVID is a “marketable” benefit

Putting these security measures in place will be crucial for rebuilding the vital season for cruise ships.

Paulette Hicks, CEO of regional economic development agency Envision Saint John, said there had been “tremendous leadership” and discussions at all levels around the safe return of cruises.

“By going 30 months without a cruise ship, we certainly missed that vitality and vibrancy in the downtown area and throughout the region,” Hicks said.

“So we want to make sure not only that we welcome them back, but that they have a great experience, so that they keep coming back year after year, which is really critical.”

With many other ports competing for these rekindled cruises, Hicks said, the province’s skillful handling of the pandemic gives it a definite and “marketable” advantage.

“One of the benefits in particular for New Brunswick is that we’re doing very well with COVID, and I think that has a value proposition in itself,” she said.

“Everything we’ve done in this province has been very strategic. But there has also been a security-oriented approach in that regard, and I think that has served us well.”