By Alex Binkley

Canada needs to reopen its ports to international cruise ships or the lines may decide they can skip stops in this country, says Nancy Houley, Director of Cruise Development for Port of Quebec.

The COVID pandemic hit Canada’s tourism sector hard in 2020 and with some signs of life coming back to the sector this year, governments and industry should be taking steps to make cruise lines and foreign travelers feel welcome, Houley said. She was commenting during a session of the annual conference of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities that also included Beth Potter, President and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada (TIAC) and Daniel-Robert Gooch, President of the Canadian Airports Council. Their members have also suffered from the shutdown of the cruise business in Canada and are working to bring back the passenger ships.

“We have a beautiful destination and we have to get back on that message,” Houley said. West and East Coast ports as well as those on the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes are all suffering from the shutdown of cruises in Canadian waters. There is much to be worked on by governments and the private sector including getting the provinces to harmonize rules on visitors and health testing.

Pre-COVID, tourism was one of the fastest-growing industries in the world, Potter said. “COVID restrictions had an unprecedented impact on the sector—no conventions or meetings, and no cruising opportunities. Hopefully 2022 will be better but we’ve got a lot of work to do to rebuild companies in the tourism industry.”

Calling travel a global sport, she said TIAC is working with its U.S. counterparts to gain equivalent border crossing rules and will be asking the federal government to deal with Washington on the matter. Canada also needs to be part of a global conversation about restoring travel. Gooch said Canada has to become a competitive destination for the global travel industry. Part of that “is creating community confidence in the health of travelers.”

The devastating impact COVID created for airlines and airports has lessened this year, he said. Domestic passenger levels are up 13 per cent this year over 2020 while international travel is up six per cent. Increased air freight doesn’t help airports pay for all the costs of their passenger facilities. A recovery in travel is being stymied by a lack of consumer confidence on the domestic side and rules that require people arriving in the country with a double vaccination status to still undergo a quarantine requirement. Also, only nine airports are allowed to accept international flights, which limits travelers’ choices.

Houley said that in 2019 tourism was booming and 2020 was expected to see the arrival of new cruise ships and increased business for Canadian ports. Canada’s cruise ports have worked with Transport Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop health and safety protocols to allow cruise ship visits in the near future. “People want to get onboard ships but they are stalled by government requests and rules.” Potter said coping with the closures has brought the industry together in a collaborative approach to work at getting cruises and other forms of tourism restarted.