Holland America’s MV Statendam visits the Port Alberni Port Authority wharf during a 2009 visit to Port Alberni. NEWS FILE PHOTO

Port Alberni prepares for younger cruise ship passengers

City’s deep-sea port part of Holland America’s smaller ‘expedition venture’ experiment

The City of Port Alberni is investing resources into making sure next year’s cruise ship visits will be successful—and to make sure they will happen again.

READ: Port Alberni to host cruise ships again in 2019

During a city council meeting on Monday, Nov. 26, economic development manager Pat Deakin described a meeting in Seattle between Holland America Line, the city and the Port Alberni Port Authority (PAPA). During this meeting, Deakin learned that the three cruise ship visits planned for 2019 are part of a new “market test.”

“It’s a trial market for what [Holland America Line is] calling an expedition demographic,” said Deakin.

These cruises will use smaller vessels, and are targeted at a younger demographic that will be capable of outdoor recreation.

The city will be making a financial investment of somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000 to ensure that these visits are well-received, so that future visits might be possible. This will come out of the city’s economic development budget. PAPA is expected to put in at least an equivalent amount, while Alberni Valley Tourism has committed $5,000.

Most of these funds will go towards a “Community Cruise Ship Readiness Training,” as well as the Port Alberni Cruise Ship Committee and presentations at the Seatrade Conference—an annual cruise ship conference that takes place in the spring. $15,000 will also go towards a partial makeover of Harbour Quay, although Deakin hinted that there might be a larger amount brought forward during next year’s budget deliberations.

“The $15,000 was just a placeholder to make sure that a minimum makeover would be done so that it looked more attractive and not as dated,” he said on Monday.

Deakin said in a later interview that there are a number of tours that Holland America Line would like to see provided in the Alberni Valley.

“Holland America hasn’t chosen all that they’re going to be offering to passengers,” he said. “We’ve agreed to come back and take a look at the other kinds of excursions we could offer.”

The city will be developing a number of tours, possibly including Zodiac or kayak tours of the harbour, the Somass River and the estuary, as well as hiking, mountain biking and ATV tours. The city is also looking at activities like food and wine excursions, which are popular in other communities. Holland America Line is a little behind in its planning for these visits, said Deakin, but the company made a decision to look at the expedition segment because of Port Alberni’s small, “fjord-like” passage up the inlet.

“And because we’re a smaller community with a lot of outdoor adventure attributes,” Deakin added. “We think that the whole expedition segment sits really well with what Port Alberni has to offer.”

This isn’t the first time Port Alberni has hosted tourists via cruise. Port Alberni last hosted a cruise ship in 2013 (also a Holland America Line vessel). In addition, Lady Rose Marine Services carries about 17,000 people per year to and from Port Alberni during their scenic boat tours of the Alberni Inlet and Barkley Sound.

“We’re aware that there are other parties in the cruise segment in tourism,” said Deakin. “We’re grateful for that.”

The city will be putting forward a list of activities, from which Holland America Line will be able to decide what they’re going to advertise. There is still “plenty of time” for decisions to be made, said Deakin. The first cruise ship will be visiting on May 25, 2019. In the meantime, Deakin said the city is open to accepting proposals from the local community.

“We would remind people that Holland America is targeting a slightly younger demographic than what are normally signing up for cruises,” he said. “They’re hoping to attract the slightly more active people.”

Members of the Alberni Pacific Railway and the McLean Mill Society are also working hard to make sure the No. 7 Baldwin steam locomotive is back on track for the visiting cruise ships in 2019.

READ: Alberni Pacific Railway temporarily halted

In addition to Holland America Line, 32 smaller vessels designed specifically for the expedition segment are under construction for different cruise lines, and the City of Port Alberni has already expressed interest.

“The cruise line industry believes that this is a growing segment,” said Deakin.

Councillor Ron Paulson, who is on the cruise ship committee, expressed his belief last Monday that the “Expedition Venture” is a “huge, growing market.”

“They’re much more intimate,” he said. “People are looking for that intimate experience.”

“And we think we have that to offer,” added Deakin.

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com

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