The Nova Star at dock in Yarmouth. TINA COMEAU PHOTO
Nova Star Cruises says its bookings in the first two weeks of August have already exceeded the number of passengers that travelled on the boat during all of July.
The ferry operator says as a result of bookings in the first two weeks of August, 17,255 people are booked to travel on Nova Star so far this month, for an average of 557 passengers per day. The company says its goal is to have between 500 and 700 passengers per day during the peak season.
In July, Nova Star Cruises says 13,043 passengers boarded the ferry, which works out to an average of 421 passengers daily. In June the company saw 6,791 passengers for the month. Over 15 days in May there were 2,924 passengers.
The numbers have increased each month since the service launched, and, as expected, are higher in the peak July and August months. Still, the company is a long way off from hitting the 100,000 passenger-mark that, prior to the launch of the service, it said it intended to carry.
The company has since distanced itself from that figure, saying it will take time to rebuild ferry service giving the absence of a service over the last four summers. The total as of Aug. 15 is 40,013.
But the company says it is pleased to see the numbers have been increasing.
“A number of factors have contributed to our continued strong growth,” says Mark Amundsen, president and CEO of Nova Star Cruises. “But probably the most significant one is the tremendous positive reviews we’ve received from passengers who have really enjoyed their experience aboard Nova Star and have highly recommended the trip to their friends and families.
“We’re especially proud of the thousands of passengers from New England who have discovered the many attractions and the beauty of Nova Scotia,” added Amundsen, “many of whom have told us they would not have made the trip had it not been for Nova Star.”
Nova Star Cruises says its entry into the market in late May was hindered by several factors. It cites the late start to the season and a cool spring.
The company doesn’t mention the fares, which people complained were high at the start of the season. Nova Star Cruises has since offered numerous discount rates and packages, including having children under 18 travel for free.
“We’ve said from the beginning that rebuilding this service, which ended nearly five years ago, will take time,” said Amundsen. “But with our continued growth, especially in August, we are very optimistic and positive about the future.”
The cruise ferry has also been featured in numerous travel blogs and had write-ups in several large US newspapers. The company’s Facebook page has more than 7,300 followers.
The company has already needed to access all of the $21 million that the Nova Scotia government had set aside for the first seven years of the service.
An expert panel that studied the ferry issue had concluded in its report that operating support in the first years of the service would be in the $30-$35 million range. That panel also concluded that a service would see losses in each of its first few years. It projected that it wouldn't be until around year seven that a service would break even, with modest profit thereafter.
Breaking down the July stats, the numbers for July show that 7,450 passengers sailed on Nova Star from Portland to Yarmouth, with 5,593 making the trip from Yarmouth to Portland. Nova Star also carried a significant number of vehicles in July, including cars, motorcycles, RVs, and commercial trucks.
The ship has also hosted special events to attract passengers, including wine tastings and food demonstrations featuring Nova Scotia wineries and cuisine. It is also offering passengers a Friday night “Bon Voyage Party” sponsored by Shipyard Brewing Company of Portland.