Sydney to lose cruise business


A cruise itinerary change by Royal Caribbean International because of high fuel costs will cost two Maritime ports hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue next year.

Royal Caribbean had scheduled four calls each into Sydney and Charlottetown in the fall of 2009 with its 3,000-passenger ship Explorer of the Seas, but has changed its plans to reduce operational costs. The decision will also hurt the Port of Quebec City.

According to news reports, Royal Caribbean International and other cruise lines are changing courses and itineraries to use less fuel.

Bernadette MacNeil, manager of cruise marketing and development for the Sydney Ports Corp., said Monday the four calls would have meant an estimated $87,220 in passenger taxes for the port. The port charges $7 per passenger. In terms of other economic impact, industry estimates that passengers spend between $65 and $100 on average, in a port.

Tracey Singleton, director of marketing and cruise ship development in Charlottetown, confirmed the Island port would also lose four calls.

Ms. MacNeil said she got the call from Royal Caribbean a few weeks ago.

“They apologized profusely and personally I think that is a good thing. They assured us it had nothing to do with the port and if things change in fuel, they will look at it again,” she said.

It has been reported the change could save the cruise line, which operates the cruise out of New Jersey, $2 million to $3 million. Ms. MacNeil said Sydney has not put its budgets together yet for next year “so we have a chance to look at our operational budgets and expenses so we can make sure they line up with actual ship calls.”

Ms. Singleton said Royal Caribbean’s move “is really a complete itinerary change so they are sort of reverting back to their older programs, which only included Halifax and Saint John, because they are also reducing time on the program.”

Charlottetown, which is benefiting from a multi-million-dollar pier expansion, has had a busy summer, including a visit from Explorer of the Seas.

Ms. Singleton said the line was pleased with the port. She said the change for next year is extremely unfortunate “but all we can do as ports during times like this is really make them question their decision, which is what we have been doing.”

She is confident they will return.

Ms. MacNeil said there is disappointment but “we certainly can understand their position and secondly we appreciate the integrity they had and how they handled the whole call to us.”

In spite of the Royal Caribbean loss, both Sydney and Charlottetown are expecting to have busy seasons again in 2009. Sydney’s passenger numbers, for example, were up 88 per cent this year over last year.

The Port of Halifax, which has not been affected by the Royal Caribbean change, is enjoying a record cruise year in both passenger numbers and vessel calls.

The chairwoman of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association says the group is always concerned about issues that impact calls to Atlantic Canada.

“The recent itinerary change is not a surprising response to the rise in fuel costs,” says Jackie Chow of Corner Brook, N.L. “In 2006, there was a similar itinerary change by Carnival where they substituted a port that allowed them to reduce fuel. We do occasionally see changes to arrival and departure times to allow ships to slow down to save fuel.”

“Overall, we have to increase our efforts to show that Atlantic Canada is a value proposition to the lines and continue to develop itineraries that allow fuel savings,” she said.