Victoria Eyeing Homeport Plans

“We will continue to grow this year, with more ships, more passengers and more crew,” said Ian Robertson, CEO of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA). When interviewed by Cruise Industry News in November, he said the schedule was still settling, but he expected a strong year with an estimated 240 calls, up from 224 last year.

For 2016, the GVHA reported 550,000 passengers and 212,000 crew members, which in turn was up from 533,000 passengers in 2015.

Alaska Rebounding

The growth has been driven by more and larger ships being deployed in the rebounding Alaska market. Robertson said: “The industry is telling me that Alaska will continue to grow both in the short and long term. And we are benefitting from that.

“Alaska is seen as being very safe for travelers, and the word is that not only will more ships come to Alaska, but also new cruise brands. We are seeing MSC and Azamara expressing interest in Alaska.”

In addition has been some growth in the shoulder seasons. “From a Jones Act perspective, these ships do not have to call in Victoria, but they choose to, so that tells me that Victoria is becoming a very popular destination for passengers and the cruise lines,” he added.

Last year, Victoria saw three new callers: the Nieuw Amsterdam, the Explorer of the Seas and the Maasdam. This year, first-time callers will be the Eurodam, the Emerald Princess and the Seabourn Sojourn.

The season will start with the Star Princess calling on April 10 and concludes with the Explorer of the Seas on October 5.

Homeport

The GVHA continues to entertain homeport plans as well. “We know that Seattle and Vancouver are becoming full, and as more ships enter the Alaska market, they will look for turn days on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays,” Robertson explained, “and we have capacity. We think we can position Victoria as a secondary homeport to Seattle and Vancouver.”

He said that Victoria has its own international airport with “fabulous” connections to Vancouver and Seattle. The airport has capacity to handle more traffic, and Victoria has more than 3,000 hotel rooms for pre and post stays.

A ship in the 1,000- to 1,200-passenger range would be a perfect fit for Victoria, according to Robertson.

The GVHA is also continuing to move ahead with the redevelopment of its terminal site and is putting plans in place to develop a new terminal.

“We already have the space now to process turnaround passengers,” Robertson said. “We have a 100,000-square-foot warehouse that could easily be retrofitted to handle all of the turn requirements a ship would need, so we are basically ready to go now. But mid to long term we see building a new terminal as being key to sustain a homeport operation.”

Green

The GVHA has initiated a 99-seat electric double-decker bus, which, it said, is the only one of its kind in North America. It will be thoroughly tested throughout the year.

Robertson said the bus is part of the port’s movement to become greener, realizing that because of where the terminal is positioned, passengers must travel through a neighborhood.

“We have been a working port for 100 years, and will continue to be so for another 100 years,” he said. “But having said that, we are finding ways to mitigate our impact, such as the electric bus.

“We have also introduced new fees essentially rewarding tour operators for using newer busses. Last year, we already saw the average age of our busses drop by six years.

“There is now a pedicab stand and bicycles right where passengers come off the ships. People are also encouraged to walk downtown. It is a beautiful 20- to 25-minute stroll.”

Robertson’s key to success is simple: “It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of people. We know that as a port we can do certain things. but it takes collaboration – from our shore excursion partners to everyone in town.

“Last year, I asked all our partners to go through what we call world host training, so that when passengers come to Victoria, be it a taxi driver or a bus operator, they provide the best guest experience possible.”

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Get an in-depth, behind the scenes look at the North America cruise market and the ports that make it happen in the 2016-2017 Winter edition Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine. Subscribe today.

 

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