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Canadian port cities predict influx of cruise visitors in summer

A boat docked at the Port of Montreal, April 1, 2015.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

Canadian port cities expect to get an economic boost this summer from an influx of cruise visitors attracted by a low loonie and the country's 150th birthday celebrations.

Ports across Atlantic Canada, Quebec and British Columbia are anticipating a surge in cruise traffic.

With the opening in May of a $78-million refurbished passenger terminal, the Port of Montreal anticipates the number of cruise passengers and crew members will be up 28 per cent from last year to 110,000 as the city celebrates its 375th birthday and Canada's sesquicentennial.

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"The Port of Montreal is at the heart of those celebrations," port chief executive officer Sylvie Vachon said. "We know that maritime trade has played an important role in the development of the city and the entire country."

The extra passengers are expected to generate an additional $5.5-million in local spending, raising the total this year to about $30-million, Tourisme Montreal says.

Ports in Atlantic Canada are also anticipating double-digit increases in 2017 above the nearly 600,000 passengers that landed last year, said Brian Webb, executive director of Cruise Atlantic Canada.

"It's looking great across the board, so every single port looks to be seeing increases," he said from Nova Scotia.

Newfoundland and Labrador is expecting a record cruise season with an expected 99,266 passenger and crew visits, up from 50,448 passenger and crew visits in 2016.

"We're definitely excited about the increases because it will mean increased economic activity," Mr. Webb added.

While in Canadian ports, cruise ship passengers spent almost $262-million or nearly $150 a person in 2012, according to the latest study conducted by the industry. Average spending was highest in B.C. ports, which accounted for 54 per cent of the more than two million passenger visits and 77 per cent of spending. A new study is slated to be released this spring.

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Mr. Webb attributed most of the growth in visitors to the low value of the Canadian dollar, which encouraged cruise lines a couple of years ago to add routes this summer.

Canada's birthday celebrations, the Tall Ships gathering in Halifax from July 29 to Aug. 1 and increased tourism efforts across the region are also contributing factors, said Lane Farguson, spokesman for the Port of Halifax.

The Port of Halifax, largest in Atlantic Canada, welcomed 238,000 cruise passengers in 2016, up 7 per cent from the prior year.

"And things are looking very, very strong for the year ahead," he said, noting that the favourable currency makes cruising in Canada a cost-effective option for America visitors.

Although the number of vessels calling at Halifax decreased last year, the port is seeing larger ships, with the Royal Caribbean's 4,100-passenger Anthem-of-the-Seas setting a record for most passengers last fall.

In Vancouver, Canada's largest port anticipates a strong cruise season after seeing volumes grow 3 per cent in 2016 to 830,000 passengers, mainly on Alaskan cruise itineraries.

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Prince Rupert, B.C., foresees a doubling of the smaller cruise ships that will come ashore at the port on the cruising route near the Alaskan border.

"For Prince Rupert, a community of 14,000 people, it's a significant driver to the economy when a cruise ship sails into Prince Rupert it increases the population by about 13 per cent so it has a huge impact on the local economy," said port CEO Don Krusel.

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