“We have sold in excess of 40,000 seats (for travel up to year end) so far,” said Mark MacDonald on Sept. 12. “We felt that we were on track for something in the range of 60,000 or higher based on trends before the engine issue arose.
“The engine issues ultimately led to a reduction in number of sailings of about 25 per cent from original plans,” he said, regarding cancelled crossings and schedule modifications.
The total number of passengers on the Cat from June to the end of August has been 32,026. During the entire 2016 sailing season The Cat carried 35,551 passengers.
In late June The Cat experienced an issue with its starboard outer main engine that can’t be fixed until after the season. In mid-July Bay Ferries modified the rest of its season schedule as a result. Then at the end of July an issue arose with another engine. It was repaired but caused several cancelled crossings in early August. MacDonald said the engine manufacturer will be covering the cost of engine repairs after the season.
PORTLAND RELEASES NUMBERS
On Sept. 12 the City of Portland released August passenger numbers. There were 12,533 passengers on the ferry, either departing from Portland or Yarmouth. In August 2016 there had been 13,909 passengers.
The Cat is travelling four days or less a week during September and October. There are 46 scheduled crossings between Sept. 1 and Oct. 15.
Bay Ferries had chartered this vessel for two years and had the option to charter again for the next two years. MacDonald said this will be the vessel returning next season.
“Aside from the engine issue, for which the engine manufacturer has accepted full responsibility, the vessel has been extremely well received,” he said.
While passengers on The Cat travel to all parts of the province when arriving in Nova Scotia, an obvious area that sees benefit is Yarmouth, where the ferry docks and departs from.
“I have heard from our operators and our attractions, most are telling me that they are experiencing a great season,” said Neil MacKenzie, general manager of Yarmouth and Acadian Shores Tourism Association (YASTA), adding in spite of the modified sailing schedule it is still a great tourism season. “I know Bay Ferries has done all it can to deal with these unforeseen issues.”
He said there are still events happening to encourage shoulder season travel.
“We are running the From Sea to Stars Promotion in partnership with Bay Ferries and Tourism NS. You can visit www.seatostars.ca for more details. We also have the Starlight Festival from Sept. 16 to Oct. 23 and an exhibit called "A Sense of Place" at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia Western Branch which features artwork by Maud Lewis. The Bay of Fundy Sea Kayak Symposium is here again and happens from Sept. 22 to 25.,” he said. “We also have other experiences such as Savour the Sea, which is an oceanside lobster culinary experience and don't forget the popular Foodie Walking Tour and of course our Living Wharves Fishing Demonstrations and Music of the Bay."
While tourism numbers are up for the year, they may not end up as high as people had hoped because of the issues with the ferry schedule. But the start of the season has helped make up for that, say many.
At the Village historique acadien de la Nouvelle-Ecosse in Lower West Pubnico, executive director Roger d’Entremont says it’s been a great year. He said visitation is up 13 per cent over last year, noting June and July were strong months and August was comparable to last year. Even with cancelled crossings and the modified ferry schedule, he said year to date they’ve seen an increase of nine per cent in U.S. visitation over last year.
Quebec and Ontario remain strong markets and they’ve seen an 18 per cent increase in international visitation.
“That tells us people from around the world are finding us,” he said, noting one couple that had visited had found information about the Acadian Village in a German pamphlet.
On the French Shore another attraction that has seen an increase in traffic is Eglise Sainte-Marie in Church Point. The church is one of largest and tallest wooden buildings in North America. André Valotaire said Sept. 12 that the church and its museum has seen 1,425 more visitors over last year – for 7,014 visitors compared to 5,589 the year before. That’s good news for the church, which receives donations through visitation.
Brian Rodney, a tourism operator in Yarmouth, says it has been a good summer for operators and notes an important part of the province’s tourism infrastructure is the ferry.
He admits the modified schedule due to mechanical issues hasn’t been ideal. In the tourism industry one thing that is very important is consumer confidence.
Rodney continues to invest in the tourism sector. The Best Western Mermaid is investing funds to upgrade the property with new signage, new furniture and more, he said.
He notes there have been a lot of people in the province this year and credits marketing for making Nova Scotia a destination.
“It’s been good letting people know what we have prior to them arriving here, and also making them want to come here in the first place,” he said.