Cruise industry continues to grow in importance for Halifax local economy

by CanadianSailings | Sep 11, 2019 | Business and EconomyFeaturedGateways and CorridorsPorts and TerminalsTom Peters

By Tom Peters

The Halifax cruise industry continues to sail along nicely with another record year for cruise passengers on the horizon.

A recent study released by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 2019 Cruise Trends and State of the Cruise Industry, found 30-million people worldwide will take part in a cruise this year. Over 320,000 of those cruisers are expected to visit Halifax.

While the global economic impact of cruising in 2017 was $134 billion according to CLIA, the latest financial statistics for the Port of Halifax found cruising has an economic impact of $171 million for Halifax and the surrounding region, an increase of 40% compared to the last study conducted two years ago. Direct spending by passengers, crew and the shipping lines was $74.3 million in 2018, but when spin-off aspects are calculated, including employment generated (both full-and part-time), taxes paid and other factors, the direct spending increases almost two and a half times.

“The economic impact basically mirrors the growth we are seeing in the number of cruise guests, so we try to update the economic impact study every couple of years,” said Catherine McGrail, Associate Vice-President, Strategy and Cruise, for the Halifax Port Authority (HPA). She said the HPA is constantly looking at trends and passenger numbers, adding, “we are pleased with where things are at currently, and we recognize that not only Halifax but the (Atlantic) region, from a cruise perspective, is growing overall, so we anticipate that the economic impact will grow with that.”

The CLIA report found the greatest percentage of cruise passengers globally, 11.9%, are American and that statistic bodes well for Halifax because of its designation as a premiere destination on the Canada-New England itinerary. Several cruise lines departing out of New York bring hundreds of thousands of Americans to Halifax to enjoy the scenery, the tours, the history and the laid-back atmosphere.

The many cruises out of the U.S. and other parts of the world combine to make a relatively long and busy season for the port.

“The season kicked off on April 8 and to date it is continuing to run really well. Everything is going per schedule,” said McGrail. “We have a great line up of ships scheduled to call on Halifax, and we are anticipating 320,000 guests. At this point in the season, we are on track to meet that target.”

There is a wide variety of shore attractions and programs that draw cruise lines and passengers to Halifax, but it’s the effort of dedicated people and organizations that keep the port in the limelight.

“I think, from our perspective, it’s important that we work closely with all of our partners in the tourism industry to ensure we continue to provide the experiences that our guests are looking for,” McGrail said. “When we talk to the cruise lines about the overall guest experience in Halifax, we continue to receive extremely high ratings in terms of guest satisfaction. We continue to see positive results,” she added.

The last cruise vessel of 2019 is scheduled to visit Halifax November 6. Over the course of the eight-month season, some of the highlights will include eight inaugural calls that started with the arrival of Zaandam, a Holland America Line vessel, in late April; on July 26, the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary 2 were in port; the Queen Mary 2 will visit Halifax four times over the course of the summer and there will be a visit by Disney Magic on Sept. 23. The busiest day in port this year is expected to be October 2 with five vessels arriving carrying over 10,000 passengers in total.

While 2019 has been busy, next year is expected to be another strong cruise season, says McGrail and as passenger numbers continue to increase and ships keep getting bigger, the Halifax Port Authority is looking to the future and making plans to accommodate this fast growing industry.

“I can certainly say cruise is a very important line of our business and right now, we are looking at how we can continue to ensure we have the infrastructure that supports the large vessels that are coming,” McGrail said, noting cruise infrastructure has been part the HPA’s infrastructure planning program that has been under way for the past few years.

“At this time we are still evaluating sites on both sides of the harbour and we are working with various partners to explore some of the options,” she said. “We haven’t actually made any final decisions but we recognize that if the cruise business is growing and that the vessels are getting larger, we really need to look at how to increase our infrastructure and support growth in the cruise business,” she said.

The HPA is also reviewing the program of “turnarounds” which it has been developing in partnership with Atlantic Canada Cruise Association (ACCA) and Tourism Nova Scotia.

“Turnarounds are when one set of passengers disembarks a cruise vessel and another group gets on. In Halifax, these vessels tend to go on to visit the smaller, niche ports in the region that larger cruise vessels cannot easily access,” McGrail said.

“We believe niche ports in the region bring tremendous value to the overall cruise offering in Atlantic Canada. Niche ports have the ability to provide unique experiences that some cruise passengers are looking for,” she added.