The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is celebrating a record number of cruise-ship passengers at Ogden Point this year due to extra-strong occupancy rates despite three fewer ship visits than in 2022.
“The ships were actually sailing above their normal 100 per cent capacity, which is fantastic,” Robert Lewis-Manning, chief executive of the harbour authority, said Wednesday.
It’s a “sign of the demand to get out and see places.”
Ships can top 100 per cent capacity because many cabins are fitted with pull-down bunks. This, for example, allows a couple travelling with children to remain together in one cabin.
The year marked a rebound in cruising in the aftermath of the pandemic.
It brought about 970,000 passengers and 370,000 crew members on 326 ship visits to Ogden Point, the harbour authority said. The final day of the season is this Sunday, when Norwegian Sun pulls in.
Last year brought 715,000 passengers on 329 visits.
“Welcoming close to one million cruise passengers to our incredible city and region positively impacts the visitor economy,” Lewis-Manning said.
“We are grateful to the many local businesses, tour operators and cruise lines for making Victoria a vibrant destination.”
Ogden Point celebrated the 10 millionth passenger this year.
Nearby, Vancouver’s cruise season this year was the busiest ever, with a record 1.25 million passengers, according to Vancouver Fraser Port Authority.
Cruise ship passengers are counted by the numbers arriving at port. Not all depart the ship when it docks but Lewis-Manning said the overall number disembarking in Victoria is high.
Passengers and crew members bolster the tourist economy. A 2019 economic impact study said a visitor spends an average of $86 per visit.
Money is spent on excursions and transportation, retail items, and food and beverage. In addition, vessels hire local services including ship repair and pay fees to local agencies, including the harbour authority.
This year, four ships visited Victoria for the first time: Carnival Luminosa, L’Austral, MS Insignia and Scenic Eclipse.
Cruise ships are slowing their speeds to comply with new rules requiring them to cut carbon emissions.
As a result passengers have less time to visit and spend in Greater Victoria.
Many of the Alaska cruises are arriving late afternoon and leaving in the evening while a few others have pulled in after 8 p.m., Lewis-Manning said earlier in the season.
Even so, demand for shore excursions was strong, he said. He thinks passengers felt an organized event was a good approach because of a guaranteed return time through a tour operator.
“I think that the cruise lines are trying to figure out how they are going to operate in that new regulatory environment and it is going to take a couple of years to figure it out.”
The focus is for Victoria is to remain as competitive as possible so that it can hold on to cruise line visits and increase the impact to support regional businesses, he said.
An increasing number of passengers enjoy walking from Ogden Point, often stopping at Fisherman’s Wharf, also a harbour authority property. “The businesses at Fisherman’s Wharf had a really, really good summer.”
Although there is a strong connection between the Breakwater District at Ogden Point and the Inner Harbour, the challenge is encouraging visitors to go into the north part of the city in enough numbers to prompt businesses to stay open to serve them, he said.
Lewis-Manning predicts that the Alaskan cruise route, which drives the Victoria cruise sector, will be resilient and that next year’s demand will be similar to this year’s.
Ogden Point had its first turnaround visit on Oct. 2 when a small boutique cruise ship, the L’Austral, arrived, changing out all its passengers.
People stay at hotels in the city and the ship received new provisions. “That is certainly something we would like to grow.”
As for the passengers, Lewis-Manning has heard cruise lines say they are seeing a younger demographic looking for physical and authentic cultural experiences.
Overall, he does not anticipate significant growth in the cruise market. “So our job is to be able to do it as well as we can.”
That means looking at economic opportunities, being experts on logistics and addressing issues such as reducing the amount of garbage going to the landfill, he said.
Detailed work on the potential budget for shore power is underway, with the business case expected to be finished in four months, he said.
The authority is aiming to submit an application for federal funding in about three months.
And amongst handling huge cruise ships at Ogden Point, some cargo vessels arrived as well.
In one case, windmill parts arrived from China and were stored at Ogden Point until smaller vessels transported them to Washington state.
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