By Jim Brown
I recently bumped into someone who works in the cruise ship industry on PEI.
When I asked him about the dark cloud overhanging cruise ships – thousands of passengers quarantined on vessels around the world for the coronavirus, he smiled and took a moment to explain why the industry wasn’t in the dumper.
“Every shipyard in the world that is capable of building (cruise) ships has one in production and (the ships) are bigger,” he said.
The growth in capacity is stunning. Ship sizes have soared from a range of 1,400 to 2,000 passengers to 3,000 passengers and up.
But not everything is rosy. There is a dark side to the growth.
Cruise ship demand has grown so much several European ports simply can’t handle them and many residents of communities besieged by the ships don’t want them there, or the hordes of tourists they disgorge with every visit.
Too much of anything is never a good thing. And seaports have lost many of the qualities that made them attractive places to settle down and raise a family. All because too many cruise ships were dropping anchor and disgorging too many passengers.
And last year’s hurricane Dorian posed huge logistical challenges for Caribbean ports, which were severely damaged and could not support cruise ship visits while repairs were being undertaken.
So guess what? That means more cruise ship traffic for the Eastern seaboard and for eastern Canada and the Maritimes.
The route “along the eastern seaboard in the states, Boston and even further down, all the way up Quebec City and Montreal and turn around and come back, is a winner for them,” said the source.
Last year Charlottetown received just shy of 100 cruise ships, while this year’s total should reach 120.
“And bigger ships, not 1,400-1,500 person ships like the Holland America boats are…but the 3,500 and up ones. They put another dock in the waterfront in Charlottetown so they can park two alongside. There’s a potential in Charlottetown right now, if everything went just right, for five cruise ships (to dock) in one day.”
So far the maximum number has been four, “and that was a real nightmare,” he said.
It’s easy to see why cruise ship visits are so desirable to our provincial government, since on average each cruise ship generates $350,000 per trip to PEI.
“There’s a huge amount of employment, the Island is just humming – people are working,” said the insider.
But in Europe the welcome mat has gotten awfully frayed.
Cruise ship traffic “is over-running the place, there’s so many. There’s not enough taxis, there’s not enough seats in the restaurants, there’s not enough facilities – it’s becoming unmanageable.”
The cruise ship insider compares the situation to that of Airbnb.
“In Europe there’s a huge revolution against Airbnb, to the point where the locals are up in arms – the local rental facilities have gone up in price because of demand.”
Will we be getting something like the coronavirus on our shores because of cruise ships?
“There have been many times when we’ve had the norovirus,” and it wasn’t good, he answered.
All those people crammed into small spaces is “a recipe for the transmission of any virus,” said the insider, who believes the coronavirus is more likely to arrive from Asia by plane, with many Islanders travelling to the continent to visit family and for work commitments.
He recalls several years ago when tour buses were fumigated and wiped down.
Still, the industry is awakening to public demands for improved service. For instance, newer ships will take less of a toll on the environment.
But is that enough to keep our love affair with cruise ships alive?
It’s safe to say we should know a lot more by this summer.
By Jim Brown