The cruise industry at Port Saint John has transformed over the years from one vessel call in 1989 to more than 70 vessel calls annually. Cruise is now a critical part of the marine sector of the port city and continues to make a significant positive impact on the New Brunswick economy.
Port Saint John is quite diversified; being involved in all sectors of the marine industry – cruise, containers, bulk, break bulk and special project cargo “and that diversity is important,” says Andrew Dixon, Port Saint John’s (PSJ) Senior Vice-President, Trade and Business Development.
Now with three decades of receiving cruise guests and crew, this industry has taken a position of vital economic importance to the port and the entire tourism destination of Southern New Brunswick. The benefits extend beyond the port city’s core and contribute to a vibrant hospitality and tourism industry throughout the entire Bay of Fundy region.
“If you go back to 1996 there were 12,000 passengers that visited Saint John and when we have a three-ship day these days, we pretty much have 12,000 passengers,” said Dixon. “In other words, we have grown to where our previous annual volume can happen in only one day! That has been tremendous,” he said.
Looking back at the port’s 30-years in the cruise business, Dixon said, “It started out as a bit of a cottage industry for a lot of ports but has grown to be a business staple for us, but more important than that is its role as an economic driver. Our mandate is to drive economic development and prosperity for the region and one thing cruise has done is opened a whole new category of stakeholders that were once non-traditional for port activities. With the shore excursion product, the restaurants and the other activities in our city and region, we now have a whole new group of community stakeholders who are very engaged,” he said.
The port hosts 19 cruise lines, all valuable clients, but Dixon wanted to make note of the support it has received from Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.
“The support from that line has been unprecedented. They really see an opportunity in this region,” said Dixon. During the upcoming annual conference of the Association of Canadian Port Authorities, Adam Goldstein, Royal Caribbean’s Vice-Chairman, will be a keynote speaker. This national conference will be taking place in Saint John this September.
“A key player in the growth of the industry globally, he is a visionary that believes in responsible, sustainable growth with a true commitment to the environment. He is a huge supporter of the Canada New England region,” said Betty MacMillan, Cruise Development Manager for Port Saint John.
Dixon said Goldstein’s involvement with the conference “shows the level of interest that they (Royal Caribbean) have and their partnership and growth in recent years has been instrumental to us being able to develop the cruise tourism product in this region. Along with world class tour operators like Aquila and Ambassatours, we also proudly serve other major clients like Norwegian, Princess, Disney, and many others”.
While the cruise sector contributes approximately one-tenth of the port’s annual revenue, its annual impact on the Province of New Brunswick is much greater. According to a 2016 economic impact study, the cruise industry contributed an estimated $50 million to the New Brunswick economy.
In 2017 Saint John had a 3% increase in cruise activity with 148,000 passengers and 61,000 crew on 64 vessel calls raising economic impact to approximately $51 million. In 2018 the port will welcome approximately 175,000, an increase of 18% over 2017, representing 75 vessel calls.
Dixon said that in most years approximately two thirds of the cruise calls happen in September and October. This is great for our traditional tourism operators because it extends what Canadians tend to think of as a three month summer season into a six or seven month tourism season. “The truth is we could receive many more ships in the summer months. There is substantial room for growth in cruise from May to August,” said Dixon.
“Betty MacMillan is constantly talking with the cruise lines about scheduling calls throughout the summer,” he said, noting that the port is getting more interest for summer as are their partners in other ports. Dixon was quick to note that the cruise industry in Atlantic Canada has become “a very collaborative effort. We collectively encourage cruise lines to deploy ships to the Atlantic Canada/ New England itinerary, primarily out of home ports in New York and Boston.”
Building the Atlantic Canada/New England itinerary is vital to the region but building a New Brunswick brand is important for Saint John and the port has a uniqueness on which it has a focus.
MacMillan, who has been “selling Saint John since 1989” said, “What we are really pushing are Bay of Fundy experiences. We are the only city on the Bay of Fundy and we sell ourselves as the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides on the planet and you just don’t get that anywhere else.”
MacMillan feels that today passengers are “going for a more active experiential focus,” and not just the city bus tours of the early cruise days which made static stops to sites. Adventure is key to today’s cruising market, particularly with millennials.
“On our itinerary, Saint John is one the most adventurous ports when it comes to tour opportunity. When you look at us now we have the TimberTop Adventures, an aerial park which just opened this summer. Last year the Saint John Skywalk opened. This experience places you on a glass floor 100 feet above the Reversing Falls rapids. All the while, nearby ziplines slide high over the rapids,” she said, adding there are many other activities that offer those “experiential adventures.”
MacMillan said the port is also “fortunate to have such wonderful tour operators like Aquila and Ambassatours in our port,” to help build and promote programs for passengers.
“I truly believe they are the best in the business and at the ACPA (Association of Canadian Port Authorities) conference they will each receive the Medal of Merit,” she said.
The medals will be presented to Beth Kelly Hatt, founder and partner at Aquila Tours & Aquila Centre for Cruise Excellence, based in Saint John, and Dennis Campbell, CEO at Ambassatours, based in Halifax, and also operating in Saint John and other Atlantic Canadian cruise ports.
In nominating these two individuals for recognition at the conference, Port Saint John said, “Without the creativity, ingenuity and original product that these two individuals created, or inspired others to create, over the years, our cruise growth in this region could not have been as successful.”
MacMillan added that “their involvement in marine operations from the tour perspective causes continual and sustainable interest of the cruise lines to come to the ports and, with cruise lines, they are continually
developing new products. This engenders a spirit of continuous improvement and even higher levels of satisfaction at our port. The impact of these tour operators on the port is huge.”
Keeping Saint John on the cruise lines’ radar is never ending, said MacMillan. “My colleague Natalie Allaby and I are in constant contact with the lines and work with their business development managers and tour operators to bring greater awareness of the Bay of Fundy and this port. For us the Bay of Fundy is an attractive product for cruise lines and easy to sell, but we work hard to impress because we recognize our geographic position may not be as easy a choice. Cruise lines must make a conscious choice to add the Bay of Fundy on to their itineraries. We make a promise out of our unique, natural attractions and our friendly nature. As a port, and as tour operators, and as a destination we want to always deliver on the promise to keep them coming back.”