By Tina Comeau
Local businesses haven’t seen a huge impact from Nova Star’s ferry service, although given that it’s just the shoulder season they weren’t expected it yet.
But some businesses this newspaper has spoken with say they’re optimistic for the summer months. Passengers have not travelled to and from Yarmouth via a ferry since the summer of 2009. Given this, the return of ferry service is being embraced here.
“We’re starting to see an increase in bookings for the months ahead. We’re optimistic for sure,” says Robert Waite, the manager of the Rodd Grand Hotel, who says they’ve had people stay at the hotel who were traveling on the ferry.
At the Comfort Inn on Starrs Road, manager Tammy Nickerson says they’ve seen ferry passengers coming through.
“I have noticed it, especially driving around the parking lot in the morning, the number of U.S. plates,” she says. “We’ve certainly seen some additional reservations coming in and inquiries as well.”
This week some Nova Star crossings have been cancelled as the vessel undergoes some maintenance. (See story here). The following crossings are being cancelled:
• Tuesday, May 27: Portland departure
• Wednesday, May 28: Yarmouth and Portland departures
• Thursday, May 29: Yarmouth departure
Nova Star's scheduled to resume its regular service on Thursday, May 29, departing Portland at 9 p.m. EST and arriving in Yarmouth the next morning at 8 a.m. AST.
The ferry made it's maiden voyage on May 15, arriving here the morning of the 16th. On Main Street, Acadian Glass Art hasn’t seen any influx of foot traffic coming through the door, but Brenda Doucette-Deveau says she remains hopeful that the ferry is going to translate into a good summer for Yarmouth. She notes that even with ferry presence in the past, this time of the year was still a slow part of the season.
“If people look back, there really wasn’t an increased amount in traffic until school let out. When school’s out, you’ll see a difference, but I don’t think we’ll see much change before that,” she says, adding it would be premature to base the success of the ferry on how many passengers it carried in its first week. “It’s been a long five years, but people still need to have patience and wait it out a little longer.”
Doucette-Deveau believes Yarmouth will pick up most of its business traffic from people who are catching the ferry in Yarmouth to sail to Portland, as opposed to those sailing into Yarmouth from Portland in the mornings.
“I found when the ferries were here before we didn’t necessarily get a lot of customers when they got off the boat, it’s when they’re coming back because that’s when they’re looking for the gifts and the souvenirs,” she says.
There are some local businesses that have adjusted their opening hours given that Nova Star has an early morning arrival into Yarmouth.
Meanwhile, in response to a story in the Portland Press Herald – which generated some negative comments on social media – Nova Star Cruises posted what it called a ‘clarification’ on its Facebook page last week. The story spoke of the economic benefits companies have been reaping in Portland when it comes to supplying goods and services to the ferry.
That didn’t sit well with some people, who questioned whether Yarmouth companies are also being used to supply goods for the ship, considering that the Nova Scotia government has committed up to $21 million towards the ferry service in the first seven years.
Steve Durrell, chief operating officer of Nova Star Cruises, says they want to assure the public that Nova Star Cruises is aware of its obligations.
“We have an obligation whenever possible to purchase and utilize Nova Scotia goods and services, and we are committed to doing so,” the company’s statement read. “Prior to our maiden voyage, the Nova Star was required to be in Portland, Maine for a thorough Coast Guard inspection, which made it necessary to purchase initial supplies and provisions locally. As we move forward, we will continue to source new vendors. With a delivery window of just 30 minutes or less, we will be incorporating more and more products and services from Nova Scotia where economically feasible.”
Nova Star Cruises says they in are in discussions with vendors in the Yarmouth area to provide sandwiches, baked goods and other provisions. Nova Scotia products and artisan wares will also be available in the duty-free shop. Durrell says any contracts would be for a seasonal basis, providing they meet the requirements of the ferry service.
On shore, more people are being hired and trained for the reservations centre in Yarmouth. Clark Squires of Bedford-based Intergy Applied Hospitality Solutions, which looks after the reservations part of the ferry service, says there are 10 full-time and two part-time employees working in Yarmouth. He says by mid-June there will be up to 15 full-time positions and five part-time positions in place.
“We are very pleased with the caliber of candidates in Yarmouth. We have had non-stop training for over six weeks for our Yarmouth operation,” Squires says about the hiring that’s taken place.
“The call volume has been very high,” he adds. “We are also receiving many calls from motorcoaches and groups and a call (a few) days ago was from a group of 250 wanting to come across from Portland. There is great interest in the Nova Star cruise ferry and Nova Scotia vacations.”
There are also 12 contracted security positions at the Yarmouth ferry terminal. A local company looks after the security.
Onboard Nova Star it’s a throwback to the days of the Scotia Prince ferry in that it’s a foreign crew.