YARMOUTH, N.S. – Yarmouth hopes to become a destination for more and more small cruise ships.
And working towards this goal is Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association (YASTA), which says there are many things that position the port well for this to happen, but there are also weaknesses to overcome.
However between the smooth sailing and the rough waters is opportunity – and this is what the area wants to tap into.
“They know their guests. They’ve done research to attract their guests to book their cruises so they know what they’re interested in,” YASTA general manager Neil MacKenzie said about the cruise operators during a presentation to Yarmouth town council. “We have to try and focus our experiences to that niche market and what those guests want.”
In September 2016, YASTA was asked to explore opportunities in relation to the potential cruise market. It sees an opportunity for the town to tap into the niche cruise market, described as small, luxury and/or adventure and expedition cruise ships. These ships usually carry less than 1,000 passengers and it is very common to have ships that carry a few hundred passengers or less. It’s the latter market that YASTA would look to target.
After discussions with Tourism Nova Scotia and the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association about potential opportunities, YASTA determined a Port Readiness Workshop was its first step, which it carried out in January 2017. Tourism Nova Scotia had also advised YASTA the Port of Yarmouth could not be promoted as a small cruise ship destination without participating in a cruise readiness exercise.
The niche cruise market is forecasted to grow by 18 to 20 per cent over the next five or so year, said MacKenzie, who spoke about things the Port of Yarmouth has going for it. The port is close to New England, Canadian Border Services Agency is located at the terminal and the port is established as one that can easily accommodate being the First Point of Arrival in Canada. There is some flexibility for scheduling and the port has a history of successful visits with other small cruise lines. A safe, affordable and uncrowded destination also bodes well, said MacKenzie,
Still, there are weaknesses, he noted. The maximum ship size that can be accommodated is 500 feet in length and the harbour is narrow and shallow. The terminal infrastructure is old, needs improvement and isn’t overly welcoming and attractive.
There are also no facilities such as washrooms at the Government Wharf, where ships often dock, and there are conflicts with everyday users of the port that would have to be avoided.
There are also what YASTA calls threats to opportunities, one of which being competition from other ports.
MacKenzie called this is a very profit-driven industry with itineraries often planned 18 or 24 months in advance.
“Generally speaking, cruise lines are looking for quality transportation (coaches, taxis), qualified shore excursion providers, port agents, welcome area at the port, reasonable prices . . . ,” he said.
What there is to see and do in a port also influences guest satisfaction ratings, which can dictate whether cruise lines wants to return.
“Cruise lines are looking for tourism products that fit their demographics . . . and are well-themed experiences, ideally with a good variety of excursions to showcase the destination,” MacKenzie said.
He noted one thing that is being added to Yarmouth’s waterfront next summer are harbour tours by Lucien and Simon LeBlanc, who run the popular Tusket Island Boat Tours.
“We know visitors are looking for that kind of experience,” MacKenzie said.
“We’re really happy to see something in our harbour. The hotels are very much on side because it’s something they can sell.”
YASTA, meanwhile, is moving forward by becoming a member of the Atlantic Canada Cruise Association. Representatives also attended the Cruise Canada New England Symposium in June and have met with many cruise executives.
At the local level, YASTA says key components involve establishing a formal cruise committee and establishing welcoming and send off procedures.
Cruise line expectations from a port
• Ease of navigating the port
• Port amenities and attractions
• Guess welcome
• Port experiences