SAINT JOHN– When the cruise industry first started in Saint John more than 30-years ago, the city only hosted around 550 passengers.
“Our first few years were pretty slow,” says Betty MacMillan, cruise development manager for Port Saint John.
But 30 years later, Port Saint John is getting ready for its biggest cruise season yet.
The season, which starts on May 1 and ends November 2, will bring 75 ships to the city, bringing with them approximately 176,000 passengers and 70,000 crew, for a total of 246,000 passengers and crew.
This represents a 19 per cent increase in passengers over the 2017 season and a 13 per cent increase in the number of cruise ship calls. It marks the Port’s fourth consecutive year of growth in cruise.
MacMillan says there are a few reasons for cruise industry’s growth in the city. One is that fact the cruise industry, in general, is growing worldwide. More lines are adding more ships. According to industry data, 15 new ships are being added to sea in 2018, with another 24 expected to be added in 2019.
“The cruise industry itself is growing and they can’t put all the ships in the Carribean. The biggest region is the Caribbean, that’s where the cruise industry started,” says MacMillan. “From there Europe and the Mediterranean are really big, Alaska is really big, those would be the three biggest regions. But they can’t put all the ships in those three regions.”
But it’s not just the fact that cruise lines are getting more boats. MacMillan says there also needs to be demand for cruise lines to send ships up to the New England/Atlantic region. This happened thanks to a lot of behind-the-scenes work that Port Saint John and its partner ports do.
“We work really hard to make ourselves known. I spend a lot of time with the cruise lines, with the itinerary planners, with the strategic managers. But I also work with their business development managers that work with the travel agents,” says MacMillan.
“Because it’s one thing to go into the cruise line’s office and say, ‘bring us more ships,’ but there has to be the demand for it. Behind the scenes, we’re working with their business development managers, with the travel agents to try to get the word out to sell those cruises.”
There has been demand for more calls to the region. MacMillan says this is because Atlantic Canada provides a safe, relaxing destination, while each of its ports offers something distinctly different. For example, Charlottetown has Anne of Green Gables and confederation, while Saint John has the Bay of Fundy.
“Each one of the ports is so very different, and we’ve worked very hard through the itinerary to differentiate ourselves. We are the Bay of Fundy,” says MacMillan. “This is where you come to get your Bay of Fundy experience, walk on the ocean floor, Kayak on the highest tides on the planet. It’s the active port, with zip lining and kayaking and walking on the ocean floor, we got a lot of those great adventure type of activities.”
Port Saint John says cruise activity represents an annual $49.9 million boost to New Brunswick’s economy. This figure was taken from an economic impact study entitled “International Cruise Industry in Canada (2016)”, which was conducted by Business Research & Economic Advisors, and carried out in partnership with the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association. The total impact included direct spending by cruise lines, passengers, and crew in New Brunswick of $21.5 million, 298 direct jobs in the province, and $12.5 million in personal income.
“We’ve come a long way. In the early days to think that you could reach 100,000 [passengers] and getting close to 200,000 [passengers],” says MacMillan. “It’s a good clean industry and the economic impact goes so far.”
Looking forward to the seasons ahead, MacMillan says her goal is to reach that 200,000 passenger mark, but Port Saint John won’t be stopping there.
“I’ve been at this now for 30 years and certainly 200,000 is where I want to get to and more. I seriously see that we could reach 300,000 in another 10 years,” she says. “The industry is growing, our ports are doing really well. We got great satisfaction levels not just in Saint John but in our partner ports around Atlantic Canada, Portland and Quebec City. We are all working so hard to make sure that the passengers are well-treated and keep changing with the industry.”