Conner Reid and Lisa Gale, co-owners of the Charlottetown Marina and Steamers Boathouse, said every cancellation affects the bottom line in P.E.I.’s short tourism season.
Whether it’s locally purchased beer, seafood or produce, the restaurant plans its orders and schedules employees partially around cruise ship visitations.
Reid said cancellations mean the restaurant is either stuck with extra food that goes to waste or has to order less from suppliers.
“It branches out to every business …. We have six different companies that we purchase from, and it may be a wholesaler or it may be a small fisherman,” he said. “Everyone is going to feel the effect.”
This year has seen 10 cruise ships cancel due to speed restrictions put in place last month in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to prevent further deaths of endangered right whales.
The port authority says this means about 8,000 fewer passengers, with the province adding that every passenger spends about $100.
Economic Development and Tourism Minister Heath MacDonald said even with the cancellations, Charlottetown is expected to see 97,000 cruise ship passengers this year. That’s up from 66,000 in 2016.
While he said it wasn’t “time to hit the panic button,” he noted the cancellations affect many Islanders and create concerns for other cities.
“Halifax, Sydney and Saint John are also concerned… the whole package is the eastern seaboard and it’s not a win for anyone when all these ships cancel (P.E.I.),” said MacDonald.
Reid acknowledged that while passengers will still be up, businesses project their growth on early expectations and may expand with that in mind.
“You start to say ‘OK, well I’m going to need to purchase a new fridge to hold stock or I’m going to have two new cooks’,” said Reid. “(As) they start taking boats away you’re going… ‘I didn’t really need that fridge or I have to let an employee go because I can’t afford to keep them anymore’.”
MacDonald will be meeting with DFO, Transport Canada and stakeholders in the tourism industry for an information session Friday.
“We support Fisheries and Oceans every step to prevent future deaths, but we also have an economy to run… We have to be concerned about it and keep the lines of communication open right now. There are so many unanswered questions.”
That includes how effective the speed restrictions actually are, with Lobster on the Wharf owner Steve Larkin noting it’s a “difficult issue.”
“Maybe (speed restrictions) will prove to work and help the state of whale casualties in the gulf and maybe it won’t. We don’t know, it’s difficult because it’s unproven,” said Larkin, adding that cruise ship cancellations are also unfortunate for areas outside of Charlottetown since some passengers tour the province.
Port of Charlottetown business development manager Corryn Clemence said the port is committed to working with Transport Canada.
“To find the best of both worlds – protect the whales while also ensuring that we allow our industry to continue to thrive,” said Clemence, who noted that even with speed restrictions many larger vessels re-worked their schedules to visit Charlottetown.
“I really believe that speaks volumes to us a port of call and destination for cruise ships.”
Bill Kendrick, owner of Experience P.E.I., is looking forward to hearing what comes out of Friday’s meeting.
“My position has always been the protection of the whales is critical, but surely we can find a way to protect the whales and not cause harm to an important industry that generates a lot of revenue to the Island. To me, it’s not an ‘either or’ situation. We need to do both.”