…the atmosphere and buzz of activity in our downtown…”

I have a lot of friends whose businesses depend on the cruise ship part of Prince Edward Island tourism to survive: cruise ship visitors, which cluster around the “shoulder seasons” in spring and fall, are the sort of “bulk buying” part of tourism, where hundreds and thousands of visitors can be processed in a small amount of time, each leaving some money behind.

But even my friends who depend on cruise business will admit to some discomfort with the nature of the cruise business: cruise ship passengers generally arrive in the morning, have a single “Island experience,” and then get back on their ship before nightfall and the voyage to the next port.

Other than money and sewage these visitors leave little behind on the Island. It’s a stretch to even call them visitors, because it’s doubtful that their quick breeze through actually allows them to learn anything truly meaningful about Prince Edward Island.

And of course they neither stay in hotels nor eat in restaurants because they bring their own floating city with them, where all that is already paid for. 

The notion that they would actually interact with any Prince Edward Islander outside of the confines of the tourist economy is remote: unless you happen to be benefiting economically from these tourists, it’s likely there there’s no love lost for them; we put up with the tour buses clogging the streets of the city and the “Cruise Ship Visitors Welcome” signs in the local shop windows because we have friends and neighbours who depend on the visitors for part of their livelihood. 

Which is why it was galling to have the Deputy Mayor quoted in a news release as saying (emphasis mine):

The economic impact from these cruise ships is incredible. Research done in 2010 showed that cruise passengers spend an average of $76 per day in Charlottetown,” said Deputy Mayor Stu MacFadyen, chair of the City’s Economic Development and Culture Committee. “Beyond that, these passengers contribute to the atmosphere and buzz of activity in our downtown. We wish to thank those who have included Charlottetown in their vacation, but also extend our appreciation to the Harbour Authority for the work they put into hosting these large ships in the City’s port.”

No they don’t. At all.

I’m not trying to be mean, but I don’t believe that the presence of a cruise ship in the Port of Charlottetown has ever contributed a single thing, in a positive way, to the “atmosphere and buzz of activity in our downtown.”

Cruise ship passengers may be economically valuable to the city, but they’re little better than zombies when it comes to the things that actually matter when it comes to building a downtown with “atmosphere” and “buzz.”

It’s one thing to ask us to passively accept the necessary evil of cruise ships in our midst. It’s an entirely different thing to have it the official position of the city that cruise ship visitors are more than a necessary evil and that they somehow contribute to our quality of life. They don’t. And we should be honest about that.