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New Seattle-B.C. cruises could be worth millions
Trips will bring thousands of visitors to province each week

Joanne Lee-Young
Vancouver Sun

New cruises out of Seattle that stop in B.C. ports only instead of the traditional Alaskan destinations are bringing thousands of tourists to the province this season and, with them, potentially millions of dollars in spending money.

The B.C. cruises, which began this month, will depart Seattle three times a week and carry up to 1,800 passengers per trip to stops including Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert.

The cruises, offered by Florida-based Celebrity Cruises, are expected to help offset the industry slump B.C. has been experiencing in recent seasons, largely due to competition from Seattle.

While cruise ship passenger numbers through Vancouver have been declining and stagnant, the Port of Seattle is breaking records. The Port of Vancouver saw some 930,000 cruise ship passengers in 2004, but the cruise industry in Seattle has grown from just six vessel calls and 7,000 passengers in 1999 to 150 calls and 562,000 cruise ship passengers in 2004. That number is expected to jump further to 685,000 in 2005.

"It's a very serious issue for us as a port," said Greg Wirtz, manager of cruise, marketing and operations, Port of Vancouver. "A big factor is the post-Sept. 11 world. There is a perception that it is easier to go from Seattle to Alaska and stay within the U.S. We need to compete with that."

Herb Pond, the mayor of Prince Rupert, noted that in Juneau, one of the major Alaska calls, each cruise passenger spends about $215 per visit. He said he's looking forward to similar revenue from passengers on a more direct route from Seattle.

"The more within-B.C. cruising, the better. We want to use the marketing clout of Alaska, which many people have already visited, and tempt people into coming back to Prince Rupert," Pond said.

Pond says that a new cruise- ship dock in Prince Rupert has already created a number of new businesses, including pedicab, scooter rental, and whale-watching services.

As well, existing businesses have been able to work on the quality of their offerings, knowing that there will be a predictable number of cruise passengers.

Pond said Prince Rupert has also looked to cruise-ship stops in Alaska for lessons on handling the negatives.

"We are working very hard to make sure that Prince Rupert remains unique and not like everyone else. We are doing this by encouraging local entrepreneurs as much as possible. We are carefully designing things like daily traffic patterns."

Wirtz said Vancouver is also working to encourage more American traffic. For example, there are plans to launch a program allowing American travellers to land at Vancouver International Airport, board a secure coach and be shuttled to the cruise terminal without having to clear customs.

In the meantime, American passengers have already begun boarding these new Seattle cruises. They started in early May and include three-, four- and five-day round-trip voyages. Celebrity's 1,800-passenger Mercury ship rotates to leave Seattle on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, hitting two mid-week departures. The Port of Seattle is at capacity for cruise ships on Saturdays and Sundays, as is the Port of Vancouver, according to Tino Salud, general manager cruise and dock operations, Port of Seattle.

For both ports, this is a major stumbling block to growing the cruise industry.

"We have over the years been looking at lengthening the cruise season to include spring and fall. As well, this plays into utilization of midweek cruises so that we can maximize use of our facilities," said Salud in a phone interview. "These new cruises expand the market so that we are not just a start and end for Alaska cruises."

FROM SEATTLE, WITH CASH:

Seattle-based B.C. cruises bring with them a boon to the province's tourism industry.

1,800: Passenger capacity of the B.C. coastal cruise ships.

$215: Average amount spent by each cruise passenger in Juneau, one of the major Alaska calls.

3 times a week: Frequency of Seattle-based B.C. cruises.

4: The number of B.C. ports the cruises will stop in, including Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo and Prince Rupert.

Ran with fact box "From Seattle, With Cash", which has been appended to the end of the story.
 

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I think this is a better route then Alaska because you get to visit 3 big city Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria plus it stops in the north so you still get to go some place remote as well.
 

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This is awesome......
 
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