Smooth sailing for Vancouver cruise sector with 2012 recovery set to continue in 2013

Passenger counts increase despite decrease in cruise ship traffic

The passenger count for Vancouver's cruise industry increased in 2012 but fell slightly short of expectations and is less than 60% of the sector's peak year in 2002.

Port Metro Vancouver (PMV) revealed November 14 that 666,240 people sailed on 191 ships out of Vancouver in 2012. That's up 0.4% from 2011's 663,425 passengers on 199 cruise ships outbound from the city. It was, however, just shy of Port Metro Vancouver's projection earlier this year that 670,000 cruise passengers would use the city as a port of call.

Vancouver's cruise industry is an important contributor to the region's economy. It generates more than $2 million in economic activity for every cruise ship call in the city. Passenger counts on cruises out of Vancouver steadily increased until 2002 when the sector peaked with 342 sailings and 1,125,252 passengers.

Competition from Seattle's newly renovated cruise ship terminal contributed to Vancouver's lower cruise passenger counts.

In addition, Alaska voters approved a US$50 per-passenger tax in 2006 that went into effect in 2007 and encouraged cruise lines to base fewer vessels on the Vancouver-to-Alaska run. Cruise lines traditionally plan ahead several years, so the implication of the new Alaska tax was not felt until 2009, said PMV manager of business development Carmen Ortega. In 2010, Alaska's government reduced the tax by US$11.50, and Ortega said cruise lines have slowly started to increase their Vancouver-to-Alaska sailings.

The increase in cruises out of Vancouver is expected to continue next year when sailings jump to 230 from 191 in 2012. Those 2013 cruises are expected to carry more than 820,000 passengers, or 24.6% more than in 2012, Ortega told Business in Vancouver.

Ships scheduled to sail out of Vancouver next year that were not sailing out of Vancouver in 2012 include:

•Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Sun;

•Disney Cruise Line's Disney Wonder;

•Holland America's Amsterdam; and

•Oceania Cruises' Regatta.

Vancouver managed to increase its cruise passenger count by 2,815 in 2012 compared with 2011 despite having eight fewer sailings largely because Princess Cruises brought a bigger ship to Vancouver this year compared with last year. The industry trend is toward larger cruise ships. Celebrity Cruises' Celebrity Solstice, for example, sails out of Seattle because it's too tall to sail under the Lions Gate Bridge with sufficient clearance at high tide.

Ortega, however, doubts that this trend will have a long-term detrimental impact on the Vancouver cruise sector because Royal Caribbean International is the only cruise line currently operating out of Vancouver that has plans to build bigger ships.

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