Busiest one-day cruise visit a ‘mirage’ for some businesses

Over 300,000 tourists set to arrive in Halifax this cruise season

A cruise ship docks in the Port of Halifax last year.   Ted McGrath

The busiest day of Halifax’s 2018 cruise season will be Oct. 9, with approximately 11,380 tourists — raising the population of the Halifax Regional Municipality by three per cent.

“Our biggest months are September and October, and that’s when we get about two-thirds of our total cruise traffic through Halifax,” said Lane Farguson, communications adviser for Halifax Port Authority.

The Port of Halifax is expecting 200 scheduled cruise ships for the upcoming season, carrying about 300,000 passengers. They will dock at the Halifax port from April through early November.

Farguson noted the cruise schedules are released with ship capacities listed, which helps businesses plan their staff schedules.

“By the time the busy season gets to us, our crews, employees and staff, our service providers all have their schedules well in place and everything is well rehearsed,” he said.

‘A mirage’

The constant flow of passengers doesn’t affect all waterfront businesses.

Kristine Kovacevic, interpretation and visitor experience manager for the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21, said they don’t get a lot of cruise ship visitors, even though it’s right where the ships dock.   

“I feel like they’re kind of like a mirage in the desert,” she said. “For us, they seem so close, and it looks like such a good opportunity but they’re actually pretty hard to attract to the museum.”

In an earlier email to The Signal, Kovacevic said on the busiest day of the 2017 season only 52 of the 11,120 cruise tourists passed through the museum’s doors. An average of 20 cruise tourists visit per day during the season.

Kovacevic said the majority of visitors don’t know the museum is there. She finds the museum has more Canadian tourists than American tourists and many visitors tend to visit the gift shop, instead of the museum itself.

Not so big spenders

In a report released last year, the Port of Halifax says about $51 million associated with the port was directly spent by the cruise industry in 2016.

A study by Memorial University on the economic impact of cruise tourism suggests tourism spending isn’t as powerful as advertised.

Brian VanBlarcom, an economics professor at Acadia University and one of the authors of the study, said it’s unlikely everyone will exit the ships on the busiest day. Spending varies and depends on the demographics of the cruise tourists.

“Any time you’re dumping that volume of consumers into the area, it’s going to have some impact,” he said. “It’s perhaps not as big as some of the cruise lines have indicated, but it’s still a substantial quantity of money.”

The study notes that 20 to 40 per cent of passengers don’t leave cruise ships while in port. In 2016, those who did leave ships spent about $60 in the HRM, per person.