Victoria sails closer to goal of being cruise ship home port

Explorer of the Seas makes a call in Victoria | Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority’s (GVHA) goal of having a small or mid-sized cruise ship call Victoria home by 2020 has moved closer to reality.

The organization says it took a major step forward after participating in Seatrade Cruise Global, the largest cruise trade show in North America.

“Are we closer to it now than a year ago? Yes. Are we there where we can say we have achieved our goal? No, we have some work to do,” said Ian Robertson, GVHA chief executive. “We put a stake in the ground a year ago saying we wanted to become a home port by 2020 — it’s aggressive but achievable.”

GVHA officials set two goals for the Florida trade show, he said: “To continue to raise the profile of Victoria as a leading port of call on the west coast of North America, and to continue to build awareness and establish credibility around us becoming a home port.

That job was done, he said. The GVHA came away with eight solid leads — they set a target of five — with cruise lines who might consider making Victoria a home port.

As a home port to one or two smaller cruise lines, Victoria could attract pre- and post-cruise tourism business and provide provisioning that could be worth $2 million per ship per excursion.

The cruise lines they will be meeting with are either already using Victoria as a port of call for their Alaskan cruises, or are not sailing to Alaska but expect to start over the next few years.

Victoria is Canada’s busiest cruise-ship port, having welcomed more than 550,000 passengers last year, and it expects to break records this year with 240 ships anticipated at Ogden Point between April and October.

The GVHA estimates the economic impact of the cruise ship industry at $100 million annually, based on an average expenditure of $400,000 per call.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps, who travelled with the Victoria delegation to the cruise ship conference, said the GVHA and its partners have built an impressive industry. “The next step, and what I was really there to support, is for Victoria to become a home port. This presents an enormous economic opportunity.”

Robertson said the only major hurdle is establishing customs pre-clearance facilities at Ogden Point. While pre-clearance has existed at airports in Canada for decades, allowing passengers to clear U.S. customs here and avoiding long lines at their destination, it has not been extended to land and sea crossings.

But there are hopes for a customs pre-clearance pilot project at a rejuvenated Belleville Street Terminal, which could act as a template for similar facilities at Ogden Point and Victoria International Airport.

“Belleville is key,” Robertson said. “We want to see that come through as that would be a good step for Ogden Point.”

Times Colonist