With a million-dollar investment in infrastructure for Ogden Point, GVHA CEO Ian Robertson can’t help but feel great enthusiasm for Victoria’s cruise business. Describing 2018 as a “record-setting year,” Robertson expects even more growth for 2019. “We’ve seen a nine-per-cent increase in passengers in 2018 over 2017 and expect a 14-per-cent increase in 2019,” he said. “When combined with crew, we will be very close to welcoming one million people to Victoria via cruise ship.”
The highlight for this year was definitely the arrival of the Norwegian Bliss on June 1. “The team worked very hard to prepare for her arrival, including the installation of new bollards for Pier A,” he said, adding that the next milestone will be the arrival of the Ovation of the Seas in 2019. To prepare for that vessel, as well as visits from Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, GVHA will start work in the fall on upgrades to Pier B, installing a second mooring dolphin. To Robertson’s delight (and gratitude to the Provincial Government for facilitating the process), he just learned that the infrastructure project is eligible for federal funding under the Building Canada Fund which will provide up to one-third of the cost.
In the meantime, GVHA’s Master Plan for Ogden Point continues to make its way through the various approval processes. “This year, we’ve been completing a traffic demand study and market assessment,” said Robertson. “Once completed, we hope to be in front of City Council for approval of the Master Plan by late 2018/early 2019.” The Master Plan outlines GVHA’s aspirations for Ogden Point, including a number of features to ensure public access and environmental sustainability within the context of encouraging and enhancing economic diversity (the plan is available for review on GVHA’s website).
Public engagement and environmental sustainability already play a large part in GVHA’s management of Ogden Point with Robertson noting that “by 2022, we’ll be operating one of the most environmentally friendly ports when it comes to ground transportation.” To help meet this target, GVHA has implemented a requirement for all buses to have an engine age of 2010 or newer by 2019. They are also requiring buses to have “silent” back-up beepers (“the high-pitched beeping sound is replaced by a sound similar to a duck quack”), a move greatly welcomed by residents in James Bay.
On the subject of James Bay residents, who have in the past been strongly opposed to a cruise industry at Ogden Point, Robertson noted that a change in the mindset of GVHA, as well as steps like those above, is helping to create a better relationship. “In addition to public information meetings and providing greater transparency in the decision-making process, we have made great efforts in engaging residents, including partnering with the Victoria Cruise Industry Alliance to host three (so far) tours of cruise ships for school kids in the James Bay area.” Those tours include a tour of the bridge, a review of environmental initiatives and, most importantly for the kids, a trip to the buffet.
Another highly successful initiative has been the Friday Night Breakwater Barge event. “We’re in our third year of opening up the barge that is adjacent to Pier A to the public,” Robertson said. “There is a live band, a liquor licence and a food truck. It’s become a very popular event and we see a huge cross-section of the community participate.”
Also under the heading of community engagement, Robertson was pleased to report on the effective collaboration with the Songhees Nation on a pilot project at the CPR Steamship Terminal. “They have occupied the lower level of the Terminal for just over a year and it has been working out very well. We’re both seeing what will happen this year and will then determine the way forward. It’s given us a good idea of possibilities as we talk about the development of Ogden Point within the Master Plan which calls for a First Nations village that would be a shared space for both the Esquimalt and Songhees Nations.”
Looking at non-cruise business at Ogden Point, Robertson sung the praises of Western Stevedoring and John Briant. “John has done an amazing job of growing our non-cruise shipping revenue. Numbers for 2017 were up 37 per cent over the previous year and 2018 will at least equally match that,” he said, pointing to the example of the Canadian Coast Guard vessel Sir John Franklin which was berthed at Ogden Point from the fall 2017 to May this year. “That was the first of three CCG vessels that will come in under contract with Seaspan’s Victoria Shipyards.” And while the cruise business is the priority from May to October, Robertson noted that there are a few other vessels — for example, yacht transshipments — which use the berths on non-cruise days.
When asked about priorities for the coming year, Robertson reported that GVHA is in the process of accepting bids for the dolphin extension at Pier B and expects to start construction at the end of the 2018 cruise season in October/November to be ready by May 2019, in time for the arrival of the Ovation of the Seas. When asked about the longer-term plans for cruise, he remarked: “We’re watching Seattle and their plans for expansion very closely. If they add more berths, we’ll have to look seriously at a fourth-berth strategy,” adding that he’s not necessarily convinced it needs to be at Ogden Point. “We’re not ruling out Ogden Point but perhaps there may be another location in the south Island to help disperse traffic and benefits.”
And in what he describes as a “marathon, not a sprint,” Robertson continues to work on attaining home port status. While acknowledging that the target of 2020 may be too aggressive, he believes they will be within a few years of that original goal. “The key hurdle is pre-clearance. We continue to work on that and we’ve had very positive discussions with U.S. Customs and Border Protection as well as the cruise lines who have expressed interest,” said Robertson.
For the time being, he is focusing more specifically at the smaller cruise vessels. “We have the infrastructure in terms of airport, air lift and hotel to be able to accommodate the smaller vessels and we’ll continue to move along on that path while putting together a business case for the Canadian federal government and the USCBP on pre-clearance.”