The summer tourism season is more than halfway done, and stats from BC Ferries show that the number of people travelling the marine highway on the North Coast is down from the same time last year.
There were 2,396 passengers who travelled the Inside Passage in May, down 21.2 per cent from the 3,041 last May, while the number of vehicles making the trip fell 20.1 per cent from 975 in 2010 to 779 in 2011. In June the number of passengers on the inside passage fell 13.28 per cent, from 5,431 last June to 4,710 this June, while the number of cars fell 11.1 per cent, down to 1,464 from 1,647. In total the number of passengers in May and June fell by 1,366 and vehicle traffic fell by 379. So far this year there have been 8,905 passengers and 2,877 vehicles taking the Inside Passage, which is down 11.49 per cent and 10.9 per cent respectively.
The numbers are also down on the Prince Rupert to Skidegate route, although not as significantly as on the Inside Passage. In May there were 2,823 passengers making their way to or from Haida Gwaii, down 3.3 per cent from last May, and there were 1,136 vehicles, down 6.96 per cent from last May. In June, the number of passengers increased slightly year-to-year, rising .45 per cent from 3,527 to 3,543, while vehicle traffic fell slightly, from 1,402 last June to 1,394 this June. The number of passengers is down 81 from last year, and vehicle traffic is down 93 vehicles. In the first half of 2011 there were 8,110 passengers and 3,328 vehicles making the trip, down 5.12 per cent and 6.96 per cent respectively
North Coast MLA and NDP Ferry Critic Gary Coons says he is not surprised to see the numbers are down.
“It is the effect of price elasticity. As fares go up ridership will go down. It is disturbing that BC Ferries has not acknowledged this over the years and continue to predict ridership levels that will increase in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary… As far as the inside passage it is no surprise ridership is down especially when a trip from Vancouver to Prince Rupert is approximately $300 more expensive by taking the ferry than driving,” he said.
“Throughout ferry dependent communities and islands there has been the cry that fares are too high and are impacting them in serious ways. There have been a number of rallies and protests and those on haida Gwaii are pressuring for an inquiry…BC Ferries is an essential link of our highway network and was never intended to make money. BC Ferries should never be a flotilla of ‘profit and loss centres’ as it is now being pushed to be.”
And Tourism Prince Rupert CEO Bruce Wishart says the drop in ridership is not reflective of tourism in the region as a whole.
“BC Ferries results so far this year aren’t reflective of what we’re seeing in tourism results for Prince Rupert. We only have official stats for the first four months of the year, but in that time our hotel receipts are up 16 per cent over the same period last year. Some of that of course reflects business travel, particularly with a good schedule of spring conferences. That likely also contributed to a 13.5 per cent increase over year previous in airport traffic in the first quarter of this year. But in general the leisure market has also held its own. Visitor Centres in Northern BC are reporting a 13.7 per cent increase year-to-date. We don’t have official numbers yet, but the Alaska ferry on the northern Inside Passage, for example, seems to have remained relatively steady despite two vessels instead of one running out of Bellingham this year – but then, the Alaska Marine Highway System has offered some attractive price incentives over the past couple of years,” he said, adding that he sees the drop being a result of the company’s pricing and marketing.
“Of course there are some external influences that have an impact on travel this year. The high Canadian dollar and gas prices, and a less stable European market, have an influence on the northern BC circle route. However, I’d suggest that high and continually rising fares on BC Ferries, which also erodes resident use of the ferry, and the lack of an aggressive response to market conditions, say a lot about the dramatic decrease in BC Ferries results. The Inside Passage in particular is a marquee experience, not just for BC but for Canada, so it’s certainly nothing to do with the quality of the product.”