Smooth sailing for tourism in city

Published Tuesday October 28th, 2008 - Telegraph Journal

Port Cruise ships comes to rescue as the number of visitors arriving by road declines

SAINT JOHN - Thank goodness for cruise.

A golden sunset is reflected in the windows of uptown buildings with the cruise ship Carnival Victory at Long Wharf. The sun sets on the city's 2008 cruise ship season today.

With declining motor-coach and so-called rubber-tire traffic, cruise ship visits give a "tremendous boost" to the city's tourism industry, says Shirley Elliott of Tourism Saint John.

The departure of the Constellation late this afternoon will mark the end of the 2008 cruise season, which has delivered 180,000 passengers and more than 70,000 crew members to the city over the past five months - figures that represent an increase of more than 40 per cent over last year.

This season's 79 vessel calls contributed more than $11.4 million in passenger and crew spending alone to the local economy.

"This record-setting cruise season will be remembered for years to come," says Stephen Campbell, Saint John Port Authority board chairman.

"Besides hosting the QM2 (Queen Mary 2) and the QE2 (Queen Elizabeth 2), we welcomed our millionth cruise passenger in August and we have almost completed our new cruise terminal."

Elliott declined to divulge specific numbers, which are still being tabulated and due out in November, but said the past tourism season is looking promising.

"When all is said and done, we're going to be able to say we've had a pretty good season in Saint John," she said.

"That we've had no gains, but we've held our own."

On a brighter note, the rising U.S. dollar is good news for tour operators, she said.

Motor-coach traffic, which has traditionally been very strong for Saint John, has been declining everywhere over the last five years, she said, because of increased interest in cruises. Plus, she added, it's not unusual during a U.S. election year to see a decline in American visitors, especially when combined with the price of gas, the downturn in the American economy and new passport regulations.

"We've seen a shift in the group-tour market in that people who would be coming to Saint John on a motor coach now are booking a cruise and cruising to our area," she said.

"When I go to my marketplaces and meet with tour operators, I'm getting a lot of questions about cruise and things they can do when they come into port."

The Saint John Port Authority's marketing strategy is expected to bring 200,000 passengers annually in the coming years, a port spokesman has said, with tens of millions of dollars spilling into area businesses.