Thursday, July 23, 2009

Growing the ferry numbers for the North

BC Ferries outlines its planning options for the North coast and the potential of a more dedicated link to the Lower Mainland is just one of the thoughts being put forward.

It was a project first outlined in the Northern View on July 14th, when Mayor Jack Mussallem threw his support behind attempts to increase the traffic flow to the North coast.

Wednesday's Daily News touched base with Tourism Prince Rupert's Bruce Wishart to get some more background on the plans of BC Ferries.

By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Wednesday, July 22, 20093
Page two

Tourism possibilities could abound for Prince Rupert through proposed Be Ferries plan.

Over the next four-to-six months, the provincial ferry operator will be' looking at whether or not a transit route from Vancouver to Port Hardy is feasible. If it is, then the Prince Rupert could be seeing increased auto traffic from Vancouver.

It's all about capturing the innerprovincial tourism market, said BC Ferries spokesman Mark Stephenson.

"It would have a number of objectives and one of them would be to further stimulate growth in the north, in particular. Vancouver and the Greater Vancouver area is seen as a huge market for us and we still feel it's not fully tapped into and we would like to see more British Columbians take advantage of the circle tour," said Stephenson.

And if it is a feasible plan, Bruce Wishart believes it could be just the ticket to help get an already encouraged tourism market to a brighter stage.

The Tourism Prince Rupert representative said that tourism is doing better this year than would have been expected given the economic downturn. And if a boat connection to Vancouver were made available it could have some tangible benefits. "The first thought that I have is that it is a really cool idea. Having a full coast service like we did as recently as 1980s would certainly be a stellar product in and of itself," said Wishart.

His only concern was the use of the new ferry vessel, the $131 million Northern Expedition. That ferry currently serves the Prince Rupert-Port Hardy route.

"Over the short term that means one less sailing into Prince Rupert, so really it's too premature for us to determine whether or not it would be a good thing or not," added Wishart.

Tourism has become an increasingly desirable market for community investors as the city looks to rebound economically.

And for BC Ferries, who have reported less traffic thus far this year, it's an opportunity to increase the B.C. and Washington State markets by travelling to the North Coast and Alaska. That seems like a natural fit.

"We are looking forward to a conversation with BC Ferries to ask what this means for us." said Wishart.

Stephenson said there weren't many details to provide at this point, as it is still early days. But he said BC Ferries was optimistic this could work.

"It appears, in the early stages, to have some major pluses, but we haven't made a decision yet, although we are taking a serious look at it," said Stephenson.

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