Nanaimo Port Authority (NPA) boasts a strong year for shipping in 2016, but continued to struggle attracting coveted cruise liners to the harbour city.
Tonnage volumes jumped by 61% in 2016 when compared with 2015, according to year-end stats released by the NPA. The number of ships handling raw logs at the Assembly Wharf doubled and 21% more containers were handled.
This marked the 5th straight year of growth in that area.
However, NPA president Bernie Dumas said they expect only six cruise ships to visit their terminal in 2017, the exact same number as 2016. Dumas said they set a goal of 25 to 30 ships.
"The Port is not happy with the performance. Six ship calls keeps us in the game," Dumas said.
"We need some help. The Port provides the infrastructure, we go out and knock on the doors of the cruise carriers for them to come, but we certainly need collaboration with the downtown business and the tourism component for Nanaimo to brand ourselves as a destination."
For many years Dumas has pointed to a lack of quality attractions in Nanaimo that would entice operators and passengers to visit, citing Butchart Gardens in Victoria, wine tours in the Cowichan Valley and the steam train in Port Alberni.
"Stakeholders here in Nanaimo need to work together on a plan that is directed to the cruise operators to show them that we can be competitive with other locations and have quality attractions that their passengers would enjoy."
The cruise visits directly translate into money being shot into the Nanaimo economy, a release from the NPA shows. Each visit injects an estimated $150,000 or more.
On the positive side, Dumas said they get good responses from the ships that do visit. He said the passengers enjoy the "friendly, clean and safe" community. He said there is reason to believe the NPA's goal is realistic.
"Vancouver gets 250, Victoria is about the same number. Asking to get 20 or 30 ships is achievable, we just have to make sure that we package ourselves up as an exciting destination to come to," Dumas said.
Dumas said 2016 was a strong year for the NPA's other main focus — cargo.
He said they aggressively tried to convince ships to load their raw logs at Nanaimo's Assembly Wharf, something which has paid off. The association looking after the labour for loading these ships hired about 65 people in the fourth quarter of 2016, according to Dumas.
"It's a supply chain...the ships are really an engine for employment here. The more ships we have, the more people that are working."
The NPA will apply for federal funding this year to expand their Duke Point deep sea facility, according to Dumas. He said they're looking at doubling the size so they can take larger ships and have more paved area to handle extra cargo.
The NPA release also showed more than 3,200 recreational boaters, mainly from the U.S., stopped in Nanaimo last summer. Dumas said that is a spike compared to the typical numbers around 2,600.
"We're seeing people coming back. These boaters are tying up for multiple days...it's a good economic impact for the local economy and it's also a tourism component."
He said the NPA is also looking at upgrading the marina.