Direct ferry great news

Direct ferry service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola should be up and running in 2018.

An announcement that direct ferry service from Port Hardy to Bella Coola should be back up and running for the 2018 tourist season is being warmly received on the North Island.

“That’s obviously very good news for Port Hardy and the Central Coast, because communities on the central coast have a tourism industry that was decimated by the fact that it was shut down in the first place. That (industry) absolutely got killed when they shut it down,” said Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood. The closure “affected Port Hardy in a big way, too, so I’m very happy to see it back on,” said Bood.

Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland agrees. “I’m thrilled,” said Ackland. There were two ferries that used to service that route and lots of people used them for both business and tourism travel, Ackland said.

The loss of the ferry “has really impoverished that community. The best thing that we can do for our communities is to make sure that they have access to what they need,” she said.

The ferry helped bring tourism travel to the North Island and allowed people access to “as much of it as they would like to see” and to experience that part of the province.

Ackland believes ferries should be considered part of B.C.’s highway system and should be operated accordingly, particularly when the only access to a place is by water. “Many of our First Nations have family that live in Port Hardy and Alert Bay. It’s a way to allow them to have access as well.”

“The news of the reinstatement of this direct route is definitely exciting for the tourism industry,” said Vancouver Island North Tourism Coordinator Joli White.

“Demand has exceeded the capacity of this route since the direct sailing was cut in 2014, and a much smaller vessel was put into service on the connector route. Limited access has had a negative impact on visitor numbers to the Vancouver Island North region,” White said. “Restarting direct sailings on this route opens up the opportunity for tourism operators in the Vancouver Island North region to rebuild and create products and services for visitors travelling this route,” she said.

“I understand that a vessel and the capacity for the reinstated route have not yet been determined, this information will be essential in order to forecast the level of growth the Vancouver Island North region could see as a result,” said White.

“This is a step in the right direction and one that the Chamber has been advocating for,” said Carly Pereboom, Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce manager. “We know that the cuts to route 10 have had negative effects on our tourism development and local businesses. We have seen a steady decline in revenues for local businesses and tour operators who rely on the summer traffic brought by those travelling North on BC Ferries,” Pereboom said.

“Currently the ferry going to Bella Bella is booked until the end of October. This service has been running at full capacity since June. The amount of visitors who have been turned away is substantial, the demand for connection to these destinations is significant,” she said.

“For the Province to finally acknowledge the economic development potential of our regions is imperative to the success of all our communities who are connected via route 10,” said Pereboom.

The decision is a real opportunity for tourism to expand on the North and Central Coast and “we applaud all of those who kept this fight going, who spent the time, money and resources to build and prove that the cuts to this service was short-sighted and irresponsible of the Province.”

The Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce has been a strong advocate for BC Ferries Route 10 and has worked with many of the Northern communities who were affected when cuts to Route 10 were put into affect.

“We pressed the BC Chamber to advocate on a Provincial level when cuts were announced and to stand and support the Northand Central Coast in their plea to the Minister of Transportation to not cut Route 10 services.”

The Port Hardy Chamber sits on the Ferry Advisory Committee for the North and Central Coast and is an active participant.

In June of this year, the North & Central Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) met with BC Ferries. At that meeting the committee endorsed the recommendations of the February 2016 AtBC Central Coast Ferries Report. The Tourism Advisory Collation also met with Minister of Transportation, Todd Stone and Christy Clarke on June 30.

“Tuesday’s announcement that the province and BC Ferries are looking for a vessel to provide a seasonal service between the two Central Coast communities, with sailings beginning in summer 2018 is a result of years of work and commitment by numerous parties and the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce could not be more pleased with this announcement.”