Cruise Update: Oh Look, Some Other Numbers

Don’t ever say I haven’t done my bit for transparency on the cruise file.

I made an access to information (ATIP) request to Parks Canada to find out how much the Fortress of Louisbourg, the Alexander Graham Bell Museum and the Cape Breton Highlands National Park have made from cruise ship tourism since 2009.

Here’s what they told me:

Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site

YearNumber of Visitors off Cruise ShipsEntry Fee**Total Revenue

*The 2016 numbers are up to and including October 10th (four cruise days unaccounted for).

**Entry fees change depending upon time of year cruises visit, these blocks of time have changed over the years. Large volume discounts can be applied to entry fees, of either 5%, 10% or 15%, depending on volume of visitors from that company the year before.


Alexander Graham Bell National Historic Site

YearNumber of Visitors off Cruise ShipsEntry Fee**Total Revenue

*The 2016 numbers are up to and including October 10th (four cruise days unaccounted for).

The Commercial Rate for Commercial Groups such as Cruise Ship Buses is $6.55 per passenger. Please note that these Companies get a Travel Trade Discount to the number of visitors they bring in the previous year.

The National Parks did not have to pay any fees or commissions to the cruise line or to a tour broker or to any other third party to secure the business. The Parks did not have to pay, in part of in whole, transportation costs for the visitors. We do not know the price the cruise line charges for the excursion.


Cape Breton Highlands National Park

YearNumber of Visitors off Cruise ShipsEntry Fee**Total Revenue
20091231$6.46 (includes 5% discount)$7,952.26
2011275$6.12 (includes 10% discount)$1,683
2012854$6.46 (includes 5% discount) $5,516.84
20131557$6.46 (includes 5% discount)$10,058.22
20141468$6.46 (includes 5% discount)$9,483.28
20151385$6.46 (includes 5% discount)$8,947.10
2016*788$6.46 (includes 5% discount)$5,090.48
2016*Additional Programming Costs: 10 X $73.60$736.00

*No fees or commissions were paid to the cruise line or broker.
Transportation costs were not covered by the Park.
The price the cruise line charges the customer is unknown.
The amount of discount is based on the quantity of business generated the previous year by individual customers.


Bring on the Mathletes!

Now look at the prices Holland America Line (HAL, a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation and our most frequent visitor in Sydney) charges for its excursions to these three sites:

Cabot Trail$101-$1507 hours
Baddeck & Bell Museum$51-$1005 hours
Fortress of Louisbourg$51-$1004 hours

Memorial University professor and cruise industry expert Ross A. Klein says the cruise line is likely to receive 50% of the price of the excursion (although that can be as high as 90%).

That means HAL receives between $25 and $50 where the Fortress Louisbourg receives $14.95; between $25 and $50 where the Bell Museum receives $6.55; and between $50 and $75, where the CB Highlands National Park receives $6.46.

My analysis hits a wall here because I don’t know how much the two tour brokers are paid, although I do know that since Ambassatours is based in Halifax (and affiliated with the Denver-based Gray Line) and Atlantic Cruise Ship Services is based in Halifax (and owned by Halifax-based Maritime Travel) the money they earn cannot be considered “local” direct spending.

The “local” portion of spending would be whatever the tour broker pays local guides, local bus drivers, local bus operators and restaurateurs. (Also whatever the Gaelic College and the Keltic Lodge get for serving as “bathroom breaks” on the Cabot Trail tour.)

As for any spending outside of the price of the excursion, it seems to be rendered unlikely, first by the high price of the excursion itself and second by the lack of shopping opportunities. Consider this review of the Baddeck & Bell Museum tour, dated 25 October 2016:

[Our guide]  gave a very good presentation before we arrived at the museum. We would have enjoyed it more if we could have spent time in the small town there. If we had an extra hour longer, I’m sure the town would have benefited with a couple extra tourist dollars.

This is no accident, of course. Klein has pointed out that as cruise lines lowered ticket prices to attract customers they simultaneously began charging for “extras,” like drinks, meals and on board entertainment. The goal is to capture as much passenger spending as possible, so little wonder passengers are hustled out of museums and on to buses before they have a chance to reach for their wallets.

Obviously, I don’t have enough information to calculate the actual local spending but isn’t it crazy that nobody else has either? How can you make a sound business case for a $20 million second cruise ship birth without crunching these numbers — and lots more like them?

How can you get away, as the Port of Sydney did in its January 2016 “update” to the community, with this kind of summary of the value of cruise:

There is…an indisputable requirement that the cruise industry be sustained due to its contribution to tourism and the Cape Breton economy. The cruise industry is a major source of economic stability within the Cape Breton Regional Municipality and beyond.

Is it? Then prove it.