The cruise industry isn’t dying a slow death in Prince Rupert and in fact there is potential for development if businesses are willing to carve out a niche to make the port of call a more desirable location.
From 2005 until 2007, there were 100,000 passengers per summer and this year only 4,000 are expected to visit. The statistics are grim but at the last Prince Rupert and District Chamber and Commerce luncheon on June 15, Ken Veldman and Jeff Stromdahl, from the Prince Rupert Port Authority, detailed a game plan to breathe life back into the cruise industry.
A cruise working group with nine members including the Port of Prince Rupert, Tourism Prince Rupert and the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce commissioned a report to determine the areas where the region can improve to attract more cruise lines.
One of the most telling responses from the report was, “There’s nothing to do in Prince Rupert,” said Stromdahl.
The cruise industry dipped in 2008 during the U.S. recession and has since found a steady recovery in the last two to three years in Asia, Europe and Alaska. Prince Rupert hasn’t seen the same bounce back and the working group turned to a cruise consultant to find out why that is.
Jeff Stromdahl and Ken Veldman, from the Prince Rupert Port Authority, presented at the Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce luncheon on June 15 on how to rejuvenate the city’s cruise industry. SHANNON LOUGH/THE NORTHERN VIEW
What the report revealed
The feedback revealed passengers who don’t join a shore excursion, such as the grizzly bear tour in the Khutzeymateen or a flight sightseeing tour, had a poor independent experience.
Prince Rupert’s shore excursions have been rated one of the highest among the Alaskan ports of call, including Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan. The issue is that there is a low capacity for these excursions. In 2015, there was a small excursion base with nine tours operated by six different companies with a program capacity of about 500-600 passengers.
When larger ships arrive with 2,500 passengers only a portion of the tourists have the opportunity to join an excursion.
“We can do 500-600 passengers very well but we have 2,000 people who were independent guests who walked around and were not overly satisfied with Prince Rupert,” Stromdahl said.
What the passenger wants is an authentic experience, with access to reliable wildlife, rich history and breathtaking diverse landscapes. The cruise lines on the other hand want to generate revenue through affordable port fees, ease of operation and to ensure customer satisfaction.
The game plan
The working group has re-defined Prince Rupert’s target market to be the smaller vessels and luxury lines.
“With smaller lines we have high capture rates for the excursions, which is a very positive thing for us as a destination,” Stromdahl said.
Oceania was in the port last week, and is an example of one of the smaller cruise lines the working group is trying to target. The cruise line is known for its culinary experience and it has asked if Prince Rupert can offer a culinary tour to its passengers.
The smaller luxury cruise lines make up 22 per cent of the tours on the Alaskan cruises. Prince Rupert won’t see 100,000 passengers a year with this target market but Veldman and Stromdahl explained that the working group is looking for quality of experience over quantity of passengers.
“We could potentially see significant growth back up to over 60,000 passengers a year,” Stromdahl said adding that measuring success is through whether or not the passengers enjoy their time in the region.
“Are they spending money in the community? Are the cruise lines generating revenue in the community? I think these are the measures that we look to measure if a cruise call is successful,” he said.
Other ways to improve the industry
For the tour capacity in Prince Rupert to grow businesses in the area need to provide more options to tourists — one of the clear messages from the two speakers.
Stromdahl offered a few suggestions, such as introducing private tours for a half-day option. A private tour guide could aim at highlighting the history in the area by driving passengers to the North Pacific Cannery in Port Edward and then to the Museum of Northern B.C.
All-inclusive cruises are looking for excursions within a specific price range to offer as part of the tour package. Right now, most of the Prince Rupert tours are above the price point and are considered premium tours, which the passengers have to pay extra for.
Another prospect is the marquee tour experience, a short excursion that can take a high volume of passengers in one day. An example is the Butchart Gardens tour at Victoria’s port of call that had over 500,000 cruise ship passengers visit in one year.
The future is bright
Re-vamping Prince Rupert’s approach to the cruise industry won’t happen overnight. It requires long term planning, Veldman said.
The shift in strategy to focus on small luxury lines has already started to show some promise. This year, the port will see 12 ships and 7,000 passengers, doubling the number from last year. In 2017, there are already 25 ships booked, totaling 16,000 passengers.
“We are heading in the right direction. The port has a role and so does the business community specifically the tourism business community. I would challenge the businesses — are you a part of the tourism industry? Many of you think you are not. I would argue that you are,” Veldman said in conclusion.
The cruise working group plans to hold a workshop to help entrepreneurs and businesses in the area maximize their advantage and to be apart of the solution in improving the cruise ship industry.