Opinion: Ian Robertson, CEO of GVHA, on Cruise Season Cancellation

Greater Victoria Harbour Authority CEO Ian Robertson shares his organization's response and perspective on the cancellation of the 2021 cruise ship season.

Photo of Ian Robertson, CEO, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority
Ian Robertson, CEO, Greater Victoria Harbour Authority.

On February 4, 2021, Transport Canada made the decision, based on advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, to extend the suspension of cruise in Canada until Feb. 28, 2022. This is a decision that I support. The health and safety of the community remains the top priority for our organization. I know that cruise will resume when it is safe to do so, when border restrictions are removed, and when people may safely enjoy non-essential travel.

For our not-for-profit, community-based organization, cruise represents more than 70% of our annual revenues, or more than $12.5 million in 2020. The impact without cruise in 2020 led to a permanent reduction of staff in some departments and a move to essential service only in our operations. Contracts with many local businesses have also been cut or reduced due to these reductions. Further cuts to services remain possible and will be reviewed by our management team with the 2021 season cancelled.

Victorians will begin to see the impact of lost revenues from cruise across our properties. Our organization will proceed with substantially reduced landscaping and beautification throughout the Inner Harbour – including the inability to plant and maintain the ‘Welcome to Victoria’ garden on the south side of the Lower Causeway. Simply put, this is an expense we cannot afford to absorb without revenues from cruise. It is also one of many examples where our budget for 2021-22, which was examined line by line by our team, has been cut; unfortunately, additional cuts are being considered.

I also know that the extension of this suspension will create a devastating impact on the dozens of local, small businesses that are involved with cruise in Victoria. Over the past year, businesses that serve the cruise industry adjusted, postponed, and pivoted with the hope that cruise would return in 2021. This further uncertainty will have a lasting impact on small businesses in Greater Victoria. I hope that many of these businesses will survive the coming months until the resumption of cruise is permitted.

Victoria is a resilient and community-minded city. Now is the time when residents need to support the small business owners and staff that make this community such a wonderful place to live, work, and play. The ‘shop local’ trend is not new, but it is critically important to the well-being of our city and something that matters now more than ever. Whether it is grabbing take-out from an operator at Fisherman’s Wharf or buying items from local clothiers, each purchase will help make the difference between a challenging summer and a devastating summer for our valued small and family businesses.

Support from government partners is also essential. As a not-for-profit, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority has not typically relied on grants or funding from federal or provincial partners. However, during this challenging period, we accessed the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to provide relief and support for 33 of our commercial customers, valued at more than $358,000. We have also used the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy— the type of support will be needed for months to come and beyond the current date of June when the program is set to end.

We look forward to the safe resumption of cruise in the future, which will be a result of national efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19 including increased health and safety measures, vaccinations, and continued layers of personal protection. Our team will be ready to welcome passengers and crew when ships return to Victoria.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority is a not-for-profit organization that owns and operates several high-profile community amenities and commercial properties, including managing the Victoria Cruise Terminal.