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International Cruise Ship Port
Quebec City:
cruising into the future!

Growing numbers of cruise ship passengers are visiting Quebec City every year. In addition to being a prime destination, the city is gradually becoming the starting point or terminus for many cruises.

International Cruise Ship Port
  • Spending by passengers and crew members in Quebec City in 2008: CA$12 million
  • Direct economic benefits for Quebec in 2008 (spending by cruise lines, passengers and crew members): CA$78 million
  • Port of Quebec’s most important client: Holland America Line, accounting for more than 28,000 passengers during the 2008 season
  • New ships that docked in Quebec City in 2008: Vistamar, Explorer of the Seas, Royal Princess and Eurodam
  • Average growth of the international cruise ship market since the 1980s: 8% per year
  • The St. Lawrence River remains a relatively untapped route, accounting for less than 1% of the total market worldwide. This share is expected to rise in the coming years based on current industry trends and thanks to Quebecers’ considerable efforts (Source: Economic Development Canada)

Over the longer term, the goal is to turn it into a home port, i.e. where passengers both begin and end their trips along the St. Lawrence. This will be one way to extend the time cruise ship passengers spend in the region—and to maximize the economic benefits.

“Québec City has been a port of call for many years,” says Martine Bélanger, Vice-President of Operations for the Quebec City Port Administration (APQ) and until recently Director of Cruise Operations for the Port of Quebec. “Today, Quebec City is the pre-eminent cruise ship port on the St. Lawrence. It’s often a starting or arrival point, especially for ships that are too large to go all the way to Montreal.”

In 2008, a banner year, more than 112,000 cruise line passengers and crew members strolled the cobblestoned streets of Quebec’s capital, up 20% from the previous year. The number of people who embarked or disembarked at the Port of Quebec rose from 12,000 in 2007 to nearly 17,000 in 2008, up 40%. Forecasts for 2009 are equally rosy, with a significant increase expected in the number of travellers beginning or ending cruises in Quebec City.

A key success factor was the construction of a new cruise ship terminal in 2002 capable of accommodating multiple ships of varying sizes. In the intervening six years, the number of cruise ship visitors has doubled. Years of outreach efforts targeting major international cruise lines have also significantly contributed to the city’s growing importance as a tourist destination.

“Our objective was to increase the number of cruise ships at the Port, together with the number of incoming and outgoing passengers—a challenge that we are successfully meeting,” says Ms. Bélanger. “We are continuing those efforts and, over the long term, we hope to turn Quebec City into not only a port of call and a tourist destination, but also a home port for St. Lawrence cruises.”

The economic benefits of maritime tourism are certainly impressive. Cruise ship passengers spend an average of CA$183 on shore, and this figure rises when the cruise begins or ends in a given city. “Whenever a cruise is scheduled to depart from Quebec City, thousands of tourists arrive, sometimes several days in advance. They spend money in hotels, restaurants and other businesses, as well as at tourist sites and the airport. Clearly, having a home port ship would have an even greater economic impact because there would also be the passengers’ and crews’ spending upon arrival and departure and the ship’s provisions as well,” says Patrick Robitaille, APQ’s Vice-President of Marketing and Development.

Home port

According to the APQ team, Canada’s coastal trade legislation is one of the main hurdles to making Quebec City a home port. Under the Coasting Trade Act, ships flying a foreign flag are prohibited from travelling between two Canadian ports unless a foreign port is included in their itinerary. In other words, a foreign-registered ship cannot ply an exclusively Quebec or Canadian route. Various options are being considered.

“One possible solution is to organize cruises with several stops along the St. Lawrence and including the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon, which would count as a foreign port of call,” confirms Ms. Bélanger. “But first we need to boost the number of points of interest along the St. Lawrence. Quebec City cannot grow as a cruise ship destination all by itself. We need a comprehensive high-quality selection upstream if we wish to convince a major cruise line to stop off in Quebec City.”

The Port of Quebec is actively supporting the development of port facilities and targeted tourist attractions at various locations along the St. Lawrence. Related initiatives have already been launched in several municipalities, with financial backing from various levels of government. “A total of CA$150 million will be invested over the next five years to create six new stops in eastern Quebec: Saguenay, Baie Comeau, Sept Iles, Havre Saint Pierre, the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula and the Magdalen Islands. These funds will be used to build cruise ship piers and to develop tourist activities, excursions and infrastructure,” says René Trépanier, Managing Director of the St. Lawrence Cruise Ship Association, which seeks to promote maritime tourism. “A promotional component, focusing on Quebec City, Trois Rivières and Montreal, along with six destinations currently under construction, is also in the works.”

Although a number of hurdles remain, the Port of Quebec project is certainly on the right track—and the tourist compass keeps pointing in the same direction! “The most popular routes—Alaska and the Caribbean—are close to saturation. The major companies, which are constantly putting new ships into service to meet growing demand, are on the lookout for new destinations and original ideas for their seasoned travellers. A product like ours is certainly an attention-grabber,” says Mr. Robitaille.

Over the past several years, Quebec City has been among the world’s most popular cruise ship destinations, according to passenger surveys. Visitors particularly appreciate Quebec City’s safety and outstanding attractions such as the Old Town, which is within walking distance of the port. Other noted features include the city’s francophone culture and unique selection of boutiques and galleries, in addition to tourist sites such as Orleans Island and Montmorency Falls, which are only 30 minutes from downtown.

The Port and the cruise ship industry are helping to promote Quebec City and the surrounding region in ways that extend far beyond the maritime tourism sector, according to Ms. Bélanger. “Some 60% of the cruise ship passengers who visit Quebec City say they plan to return by car or plane. We’re well on our way to transforming our sea visitors into landlubbers!”

Véronique Lord
Photo: Port of Quebec

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