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Nova Scotia commits to Yarmouth-Portland ferry

The government of Nova Scotia plans to commit as much as $21 million to resume ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland. The $21 million will be spent over seven years and was recommended by a panel charged with evaluating the economic impact of ferry service between the two countries. The panel noted that the service is expected to operate at a loss for the first seven years before posting a modest profit.
 
A new 85-page report estimates as many as 130,000 passengers could be expected to enjoy leisurely, cruise-style ferry travel trip between the two countries, instead of the high-speed service that ended in 2009 when Bay Ferries Ltd. pulled the plug on its high-speed service, The Cat. Bay Ferries had been losing almost $7 million a year on that service – a cost that has been attributed to decreased ridership, the result of a higher Canadian dollar and high fuel costs.
 
Last spring, the Canadian panel of experts in tourism, ferries and business met to evaluate restarting the service. Premier Darrell Dexter told the Bangor Daily News his government had ruled out Boston and Bar Harbor and chosen to focus its support for ferry service to Portland, citing its appeal as “an increasingly attractive destination for visitors from Nova Scotia.” Dexter also called Portland “a growing cultural [and] business center of Northern New England.”
 
Because of the report, Dexter told the Portland Press Herald: “We now know that a ferry service could exist, with the right business model and the right partners,” and that the province would support a service that “could stand on its own, a service that could be successful and profitable.”
 
Dexter said a ferry operator would need to have a “sophisticated marketing strategy” and be capable of providing a high-quality cruise experience for passengers.
 
The Chronicle Herald has reported that the loss of ferry service – The Scotia Prince in 2005 and The Cat in 2009 – “sucked the oxygen out of southwestern Nova Scotia’s tourism industry.” According to that paper, the report provides “an autopsy of sorts” on what happened over the last decade to the ferry market, the economy, U.S. tourism and southwestern Nova Scotia’s room night occupancy.
 
In Maine, the loss also was felt. Barbara Whitten, president of the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, told The Forecaster newspaper. She noted that the Greater Portland region’s tourism-related businesses was effected by the loss of service, including in the hotel trade.
 
“It was a positive thing for Portland, a positive thing for our hotels, a positive thing all around,” Whitten said.
 
It currently appears as if the only government funding for a new ferry service will be from the Canadian provincial government. John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, told the Portland Press Herald he sees Nova Scotia’s investment as significant and “a real positive,” but he also expects a “lot of challenges,” and thinks it’s unlikely the state or the city will invest in the venture.
 
Meanwhile, the city of Portland has indicated it would offer the service other forms of assistance. “While we can’t provide millions of dollars in subsidies, we are able to negotiate favorable lease terms for the ferry,” said Nicole Clegg, city spokesperson. Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the city would “do what we could to facilitate having ferry service return to Portland.” In its report, the panel says a cruise ferry would travel at 18 to 20 knots, with a one-way trip taking about 10 hours. The panel said the ferry would have to provide “a compelling passenger experience, not simply high-speed transportation from point A to B.” The panel estimates a leisurely trip to take about 10 hours.
 

FMI: To view a copy of the Yarmouth Ferry report, visit

www.gov.ns.ca/econ/yarmouth-ferry-study.asp

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