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Sheer incompetence involved in cruise ship terminal approval

The cruise ship terminal was first mooted around 2003/2004.

The cruise ship terminal was first mooted around 2003/2004.

Around that time, I attended a meeting organized by Tourism Campbell River while working for Strathcona Park Lodge (SPL).

Many local tourism operators, hotels, motels, fishing guides, recreational tourism businesses attended this meeting.

A presenter from the cruise ship association presented the opportunities cruise ship visits might have for Campbell River. The presentation was heavy on PR and light on concrete facts.

The presenter was upfront they were looking at Nanaimo, Prince Rupert, Port Alberni as other possibilities on the island.

I was to report back to the management of SPL whether this presented a viable, profitable opportunity to expose cruise ship passengers to outdoor activities—the core business and mission of SPL. As the presentation progressed it became clear that cruise ships would stop only for a maximum of four hours—to satisfy the requirements of the Jones Act. This would have primarily applied to ships departing Seattle.

As the presentation progressed it became clear to me that the cruise ship association (CSA) was pitting communities against each other to see who would commit to their demands. Most importantly, they did not commit to anything that would require the CSA to an agreed-upon number of visits to Campbell River or any commitment other than “we will see what you have”

It also meant that

  • Only four hours of shore time were allocated to Campbell River
  • The four hours of shore time—the clock started when a passenger left the ship—was insufficient for SPL to create a business case (travel alone to the Lodge would consume 1½ hrs)
  • The Cruise Lines they acted as the booking agent (they added a 30-50% booking fee to what the operator would charge)
  • Cruise lines required minute-by-minute schedule so the four-hour shore excursion was four hours
  • Cruise lines would require tourism operators to trim their price so the cruise lines markup would sell

When the SPL management decided that Cruise ship companies held all the cards and there was not a business case, SPL abandoned any commitment to creating shore excursion packages.

What boggles the mind is this:

  • Why would anyone pursue building this passenger terminal when the business case was shaky at best?
  • There was no commitment in writing from the cruise lines or their representative
  • Why did the city commit over two million dollars of tax money?
  • Why did the province and federal government commit money that likely will never be repaid?

Chief Roberts is correct that it has given the First Nation a “black eye” financially and reputationally.

The same must be said for the City of Campbell River, the Province and the Federal government, none of whom had done their homework with respect to knowing the risks, having a viable business case, and most importantly, getting the cruise industry to commit. One would have thought people managing such projects had the skillset.

The money could have been spent on affordable housing with a tangible benefit!

If somebody had asked after that meeting whether this was going to be successful I could have stated with some confidence that success for this project was less than 20%. I am sure many tourism operators after that meeting would have concurred.

What boggles the mind is the sheer incompetence of those decisionmakers who pushed this project forward. That no red flags were raised or paid attention to is most troubling.

Christian Stapff