This west coast city has a love-hate relationship with cruise ships. But COVID asks: what if the big boats don’t come back?

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 This west coast city has a love-hate relationship with cruise ships.  But COVID asks: what if the big boats don't come back?


VICTORIA – Pippa Turney would be lying if she said she didn’t appreciate the peace and quiet that came last spring and summer with the total absence of cruise ships.

She lived half a block from Ogden Point in Victoria for 14 years, in the picturesque James Bay neighborhood, surrounded by water on three sides and dotted with historic homes largely occupied by retirees.

The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting hiatus in the cruise industry has allowed Turney and other residents to cycle and drive without the traffic jams that usually accompany the tourist season in Colombia’s capital. British. It was a respite.

Now, as an Alaskan legislative proposal threatens to remove cruise stopovers, the city is forced to view cruise ships in another way – as something valuable that it could lose.

The gargantuan floating seaside resorts have long spawned a love-hate relationship in this city.

They are loved for the money they bring in; hated for the plumes of pollution and trash they bring with them, and the fact that the visitors they drop off never stay long enough for a hotel stay and all the extra expenses that come with this type of tourism.

Most of the time, they are tolerated as a fact of life in a coastal town with a working port.

“I think if you want to live in a seaside town with a thriving port, you have to come to terms with what goes with it, up to a point,” Turney said. She said she enjoyed the conversations with cruise tourists who would occasionally ask her for directions or stop to admire the community garden where Turney often spends time in the spring and summer. “Sometimes the noise woke me up, but you get used to it. … I never felt that there had been a lot of difficulty.

From April to October each year, Ogden Point is a revolving door for cruise ships, bringing more than 700,000 passengers and approximately $ 130 million annually to the city’s tourism industry.

Along with technology and the public sector, tourism is one of the most important industries in the capital of British Columbia, which has a population of less than 400,000.

But the coronavirus pandemic has brought an abrupt end to the bittersweet status quo. And now Alaska wants to embark on cruises without the city.

Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Republican senators representing Alaska, this week introduced a bill that, if passed, could allow cruise ships departing from the Americas to travel directly to the state without s ‘stop in Victoria or Vancouver.

Currently, US law requires cruise ships to make an international stopover as part of their itinerary. The bill would affect BC’s two port cities, but would have a particularly significant impact on Victoria, which does not serve as a departure point for some cruises, as Vancouver does.

All of Victoria’s cruise ship traffic comes from stopovers, most from Seattle. Without this traffic, local businesses suffer.

Greater Victoria Port Authority CEO Ian Robertson said he didn’t think the legislation would likely go into effect, especially since the Center for Disease Control in the United States still has an order limiting cruises in this country.

“However, if it were to become permanent, it would be devastating and it would be devastating for the cruise industry,” he said.

While many small businesses may have survived, if not thrived, through 2020 without cruise ship passengers, the prospect of a longer hiatus is much more threatening for small business owners.

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, said he understands where Murkowski and Sullivan came from. Some cities in Alaska, such as Ketchikan and Skagway, depend almost exclusively on cruise ship passengers to support their local economies. And, at the current rate of vaccinations, Alaska may be ready to resume cruising long before British Columbia.

Transport Canada has ensured that there is no 2021 cruise season in British Columbia by implementing an order banning cruise ships until at least February 2022.

“We think this is the right decision from a Canadian perspective,” said Bray. “But Alaska obviously said, ‘Well, we’re going to be vaccinated by then,’ so they’d be looking for an exemption for a year. “

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If it’s temporary, Bray said Alaska’s proposal is understandable. But he also knows that the impact of a cruise ban on downtown businesses could be existential for some.

“The loss of the cruise ships has been absolutely devastating and has been devastating,” he said. Souvenir shops in Victoria’s historic Government Street tourist center suffered the most, with business down 10% from normal. But cafes, ice cream parlors, and whale-watching tour leaders have all seen drastic drops, which has ripple effects throughout the city.

But he also noted positive changes in the city in the summer of 2020. Forced to adapt, the city allowed more patio licenses and the use of public space by restaurants. It was made possible, in part, by a shared space usually occupied by cruise passengers. Now he hopes the new “patio culture” will stick around, as it is of great benefit to the locals.

It has long been argued that the cruise ship industry has placed the needs of large corporations above those of local residents.

The loudest voice in this camp comes from Marg Gardiner, President of the James Bay Neighborhood Association, who has followed all developments on cruise ship emissions and waste generation since 2006.

“Residents of Victoria pay a lot of the social and environmental costs (of having cruise ships),” she said.

The year 2020, she said, has been literally a breath of fresh air.

“We had a much cleaner air and of course people could use their streets. Our roads are overcrowded and it doesn’t have to be that way. “

Cruise ships are huge polluters. The STAND.earth environmental research group has repeatedly reported on the industry’s use of highly polluting fuels and ways to circumvent environmental regulations.

From the point of view of the city’s economy, Gardiner says, tourists and residents alike benefit from the type of cultural building described by Bray – amenities designed for people who are going to stay awhile, rather than land, to take their photos and then load them back onto a ship.

The Greater Victoria Port Authority is developing a project that would allow cruise ships to connect to shore power while in port, reducing emissions as a similar system does in Vancouver.

Even with the shift to shore power, Gardiner says the post-pandemic period is critical for Victoria to reassess her relationship with the cruise industry. She is currently working on a position paper with community feedback.

Some members of his community association are arguing for no cruise ships at all. She wants to see the industry significantly controlled – put limits on the number of ships that can arrive at the same time, stagger their arrival and impose more environmental regulations.

Turney recognizes these efforts and supports initiatives that can push the cruise industry towards higher environmental standards. But she is also convinced that if cruise ships were prevented or discouraged from coming to Victoria, the city would lose.

“Lots of Americans and non-Americans alike, this is their chance to see a little of Canada,” she said. “I don’t like (the ships), but they are there.”

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