If the first week of January is any indication, 2011 should be a good year for Lady Rose Marine Services.
“This year has started off with a good boom,” owner Mike Surrell said.
“We’ve already booked out (Sechart Lodge) on certain weekends so that’s very promising.”
A group of eight tourists from Europe rode the MV Frances Barkley from Port Alberni to Bamfield during the first week of January, he said, and they all stayed in local hotels and ate at local restaurants.
The France Barkley’s winter runs are comprised mostly of residents from Ahousaht or other coastal communities who rely on Lady Rose Marine Services for transportation to and from remote regions. In the summer, their business is 95 per cent tourism.
“Last year was by no means a failure year,” Surrell said. They carried around 13,000 passengers, which was not a record year.
“We just didn’t do the greatest of business,” he acknowledged.
Something that was successful for him last summer though was the inclusion of the chamber of commerce’s yellow-jacketed ambassadors on all the sailing trips.
“It was very positive,” he said. “I know for a fact we brought an oodle of more people to the information centre.”
The ambassadors had an opportunity to talk to tourists about other attractions the Alberni Valley has to offer. Surrell said tourists typically would come in one day and buy their tickets for the next morning, then ask about what they could do for the rest of the day.
He sent them to the Maritime Discovery Centre, the steam train and McLean Mill. “I brought 40 people in one load to the train one morning,” he said.
“The France Barkley excursion is definitely a primary icon for our community,” chamber of commerce manager Mike Carter said recently. “It brings major revenue to the area and the company itself has always been a great corporate citizen right down throughout its history here.”
The MV Frances Barkley recently spent two weeks in drydock in Victoria for her annual refit at Point Hope Maritime shipyard, but is back in Port Alberni and making her regular winter trips to Bamfield.
The company’s iconic vessel, the MV Lady Rose, will probably motor down the Alberni Inlet for her final voyage sometime in February, Surrell said.
New owner Jamie Bray, owner of Jamie’s Whaling Station in Tofino, has been working on the vessel throughout the past year to make her seaworthy so he can bring her to Tofino and turn her into a floating restaurant in that West Coast community.
Meanwhile, Surrell is mum on plans to do something with the Lady Rose Marine Services building on the docks at Harbour Quay. “There’s a plan in the works and it will not be a restaurant,” he said.