This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Home to the busiest cruise port of call in Canada, Victoria is a shining beacon in North America’s booming cruise industry. A regular stop-off on popular expeditions to Alaska – it is estimated that more than one million holiday-goers head to the polar region by ship every year – British Columbia’s capital has experienced something of a reinvention in recent years, and it’s drawing in the cruise crowds.
“Our aim at the moment is to ensure that Victoria’s Ogden Point terminal remains the busiest cruise port of call in Canada,” explains Ian Robertson, CEO of Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA), which owns and oversees all operations around Ogden Point and other Victoria harbour properties. “We’re doing everything we can to continue attracting cruise passengers, which involves working with our partners to ensure that passengers have the very best experience. We’ve still got plenty to do, but we’re making
At the end of last year, GVHA finalised its ‘Ogden Point Master Plan’ for the next 30 years. It includes proposals to better connect the terminal site with the neighbouring James Bay community, and continue to develop the site to make it a destination within itself, complete with retail and commercial facilities. All of this will be done in a sustainable fashion while strengthening ties with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.
Developments are already underway to grow Ogden Point’s infrastructure and enhance its cruise facilities.
“For this season, we’ve focused on improving accessibility and processing through the terminal,” explains Robertson. “This includes simple but effective measures such as fitting new doors to improve passenger flow.”
The next step will be to install a second mooring dolphin off the pier at Ogden Point to comfortably accommodate more of the largest vessels coming in to port.
“As we work through the redevelopment of the terminal site as part of our master plan process, a key area of focus will also be the new cruise terminal,” adds Robertson.
Because the terminal will only be used for six to seven months of the year during the Alaskan cruise season, GVHA is looking into how else the building may be used and in what ways it may be able to benefit the local community.
“It’s essential that the terminal is flexible,” Robertson explains. “As such, it’s really important that we think about how the building is designed so that it not only integrates with the adjacent community, but that it serves a useful purpose for them too. We’re exploring what other functions it could serve. For example, during the off-season it could be used for community meetings, or a regular farmers’ market. The plan is to create something that we will get use from 365 days a year.”
As it seeks to attract more cruise vessels to its shores – and make a case for becoming a homeport – GVHA is keen to demonstrate its ability to efficiently handle growing passenger numbers. “We take really good care of our mooring operations,” Robertson says. “We pride ourselves on being able to get the ship in, tie it up and lay down the gangway within a very short space of time. We can have three ships in at one time and be able to process 9,000 to 10,000 passengers within an hour. It’s one of the key benefits we offer to cruise lines.”
Once they’re off the ship, passengers can expect a similar high level of service when it comes to ground transportation and access to local attractions.
“Passengers have many exciting activities and sightseeing opportunities within short reach. And there are plenty of ways for them to get to where they want to go,” Robertson explains.
For the 2017 season, GVHA will be introducing North America’s first purpose-built fully electric double decker bus. The 99-seat bus will be piloted for a year, as part of the port’s plans to evaluate the feasibility of electric transportation, and help to reduce operational costs, emissions and noise. “We’re excited to get this fully electric double-decker bus into service,” says Robertson. “Because we are adjacent to a neighbourhood community, we want to mitigate the impact on the environment, so we’re really committed to testing and evaluating new technologies and ideas in ground transportation.”
What many passengers may not realise is that the city of Victoria itself is a pleasant 25-minute walk from the port. “We’re really eager to promote the walkability of our neighbourhood,” Robertson adds. “At the moment we’re looking into how we can improve wayfinding and signage so that it’s even easier for people to navigate their way to the city centre.”
When they get there, guests are suitably impressed. “We do know that Victoria gets some of the highest satisfaction ratings from cruise line passengers,” says Robertson. “We survey them when they’re returning to the ships and the constant comment is that they had no idea how beautiful Victoria is and how much there is to do. Our city has a wide array of experiences for people with all types of mobility and budget options.”
Over the years, Victoria – known as the City of Gardens – has undergone a quiet transformation, now home to cool coffee bars, top restaurants and brightly painted bohemian shops. “If you’re looking for a good eatery, you won’t be disappointed by the range of restaurants on offer,” Robertson adds. “It’s also one of the fastest growing cities for craft beer and microbreweries.”
So rather than having to work on developing local attractions, for GVHA and the local tourist authorities it’s more about showing off what the city and surrounding area has to offer already, something Condé Nast Traveler’s latest top ten guide will certainly have helped with. Placing Victoria at number four on the top ten best cities in the world (outside of the US) list, the lifestyle travel magazine praises the city for its stately mansions and picturesque gardens. “Its mild climate and location on the southern end of Vancouver Island also make it an excellent location for outdoor activities, too,” says the review.
Indeed, many head to Victoria for its fantastic whale watching tours where guests are usually guaranteed an opportunity to see these breath-taking mammals up close. “From Ogden Point, it’s really easy to get to the main whale watching tour operators,” says Robertson. “It’s also possible to head to the water’s edge and see them from where you stand.”
With the number of Alaskan cruises only set to rise, Victoria is readying itself to welcome even more passengers into its harbour. “We know from speaking to the cruise lines that Alaska is going to continue to grow in popularity, which is great news for us,” Robertson concludes. “We’ll be ready to welcome passengers with our fantastic facilities and make their stay here a truly memorable one.”