Organizations are rallying behind the cruise industry more than I’ve seen since 2004. New initiatives are being rolled out, many of them from the “Tent City” proposal developed by TPR and the Museum of Northern BC at the beginning of the year.
Yet despite the new activity, a vital part of the community’s welcome is still the Ambassador Program – now in its 13th season of operation.
The Ambassador Program began on the grey morning of May 4, 1999. Prince Rupert had attracted the first big cruise ship since the decline of the cruise industry here in the 1980s. Norwegian Cruise Lines was testing the community’s readiness with a call by the 1,800-passenger Norwegian Wind. With Prince Rupert still reeling from the collapse of Repap, the community was electrified by the opportunity.
Mayor Mussallem and RCMP in red serge met passengers at the top of the ramp. The front page of the Daily News read “Welcome Norwegian Wind,” and murals and archives displays were set up in a makeshift staging area in Atlin Fisheries. The Port had arranged a train excursion and other tours for passengers. For independent guests there was the Klaw-how-ya Native Art Market and Seafood Barbeque behind the Museum, and an art exhibit and a craft fair on Third Avenue. Almost 100 passengers went to the Cannery, and over 600 had visited the Museum by four p.m. Stores were hopping – even the banks got in on the act with the sale of Millennium coinage.
“It was a crazy time,” says Julia Ferguson, then manager of the Visitors’ Bureau.
“We did some experimenting that just didn’t work – for one thing trying to corral the passengers, keeping them from spreading out too far, which was a terrible mistake. And the weather! We had every season in that one day. It was just absolutely nuts. Yet there was a whole bunch of involvement with the community. I want to say that we had 40-something Ambassadors, but I think there were more than that. We had them in tee-shirts with huge Naturally Prince Rupert logos on them, directing passengers at every street corner. The Chamber of Commerce, Visitors’ Bureau and others created a shuttle bus service running a continuous 10-minute loop, that was free for visitors wearing a souvenir Prince Rupert pin.”
The very successful Ambassador Program was continued, meeting the small cruise ships. In 2002 the City Council of the day moved the program into City Hall, and the volunteers were given control of the program. It languished to almost nothing, and Tourism Prince Rupert asked to again manage the program for the City. It was rebuilt in time for the beginning of large ship traffic in 2004. Roughly 25-30 Ambassadors have worked two-hour shifts for each big ship visit over the years. Hundreds of people have volunteered, and even today there are Ambassadors who were there in May 1999.
However, over time the volunteer pool dwindled. Our Ambassador Coordinator spent more and more time recruiting volunteers, a job that became more difficult as the community’s early enthusiasm for cruise faded. By 2010 the program consistently fielded less than 20 volunteers per ship.
This year, as part of the cruise task force, the importance of the Ambassador Program has once again been realized. Community Futures volunteered to partner with us on the Ambassador Program, again trying it without a full-time coordinator, and this is proving successful.
The importance of having community volunteers ready to help cruise passengers cannot be overstated. The program remains innovative and unique and envied by other communities, even after all this time. The Ambassadors also provide us with valuable information about how we’re doing, by conducting exit surveys with passengers. One of the most frequent comments we hear from those surveys is that a chat with an Ambassador was the most memorable moment of a visitor’s time here.
If you want to help preserve the cruise ship traffic as an important part of our tourism industry, please give some thought to volunteering. It’s as simple as calling us at TPR, or calling Treena Decker at Community Futures, and then sharing your love of Prince Rupert with our visitors.