TORONTO — After a very long year with no big ship cruising, it looked like there might finally be smooth waters ahead.
Recently a U.S. congressional committee said it wanted to work with Canadian authorities to save summer 2021’s Alaska cruise season. That’s good news, right?
Not so fast, unfortunately. After Transport Minister Omar Alghabra’s Feb. 4 announcement that the Canadian cruise ban would stay in place until Feb. 28, 2022, the U.S. congressional committee called on the Canadian government to re-consider, adding that one possible solution could be for Alaska-bound cruise ships to sail Canadian waters without disembarking passengers at Canadian ports.
So the big cruise ships could be sailing in Canadian waters. But would Canadian passengers be onboard? With Canada’s cruise ban, ships would have to depart from U.S. ports. While the vaccination rollouts are underway in both Canada and the U.S., there’s no telling when the Canada-U.S. border, closed for almost a year now, will reopen for travel. So unless a Canadian travel agent has U.S. clients, the solution for saving the Alaska season isn’t much use for Canadian travel agents, or Canadian travellers for that matter (even if it’s potentially great news for the cruise lines).
But if you have clients longing to be back on the water this summer, take heart. There are options.
ST. LAWRENCE CRUISE LINES
Most years St. Lawrence Cruise Lines (SLCL) has 55% of its passengers coming from the U.S., 10% from Europe and 45% from Canada. “Last year, that number was 100% from Canada,” says Daniel Beals, SLCL’s marketing and advertising coordinator.
The Kingston, ON-based cruise line and its 32-stateroom ship, Canadian Empress, has been popular with Canadian travellers, and travel agents, for years. But the pandemic was a game-changer. Asked if the shift in focus to domestic vacations made more Canadians aware of SLCL, the answer is an emphatic yes.
“Part of it is due to a significant shift in our marketing away from advertising to an American audience in order to focus exclusively on Canada. The other part is simply a high demand for Canadian domestic travel packages,” says Beals. “Individual consumers, travel agents, and tour operators are all looking for more Canadian options and they are seeking us out as an alternative to the international tours or cruises that they have booked in the past.”
Here’s a stat that underlines just how much SLCL is on the radar for the trade these days: In the past 4 months the company has given more presentations to tour operators than in the previous 10 years.
Last month SLCL, which sails on the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Rivers, confirmed operations for 2021, with overnight cruises on both rivers May 20 – Oct. 24, 2021. A variety of cruises ranging from four to seven nights will depart from Kingston, Ottawa and Quebec City, sailing exclusively in domestic waters with stops at select ports in Ontario and Quebec.
The Canadian cruise ban applies to 100-plus-passenger vessels, so the 32-stateroom Canadian Empress is exempt. And SLCL already had a chance to test-run its health and safety protocols with a month of 4-night / 5-day cruises in fall 2020.
SLCL pays 10% commission to agents. For more details call 1-800-267-7868 and ask for Mona Fox, SLCL’s Reservations Manager, says Beals. SLCL’s website is stlawrencecruiselines.com.
Another option for clients missing vacations on the open water is Le Boat. Like SLCL, Le Boat was open for business in 2020 and will return in May 2021. Self-chartered sailings on Le Boat’s fleet of premier Horizon Cruiser houseboats can be tailored to any budget, and the company offers suggested itineraries for three- to five-night short breaks and also seven- to 10+ night vacations, all on the Rideau Canal, the 202-kilometre waterway that stretches from Kingston to Ottawa.
More partners have come onboard in recent months to sell Le Boat, including Transat Distribution Canada (TDC), which announced in December 2020 it was adding Le Boat to its partner portfolio.
Meanwhile 5Continents recently announced it had added a dedicated Le Boat booking portal, just for agents, on its website. The portal is at https://5-continents.ca/what-
We caught up with David Boigné, President of 5Continents, to find out how Le Boat is selling for 5Continents so far for 2021.
“The season is opened and the product is very popular,” says Boigné. “We have groups positioned and a lot of families looking at booking. People are more and more confident they will be able to travel domestically this summer and we expect a booking surge mid-March.”
Click here to read more from David Boigné and Daniel Beals about on-the-water vacations available this spring and summer, in this week’s issue of Travelweek.