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The AIDAdiva cruise ship, on a 10-day trip from New York to Montreal, arrives in Halifax on Friday, Oct. 19, 2018.Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

International cruise ship passengers will return to Canada for the first time in more than two years, when the Caribbean Princess arrives in Victoria on April 6.

The ship’s arrival is expected to herald the return of tens of thousands of visitors to Canada this year, reviving an industry that once injected more than $2-billion annually into the national economy.

Ian Robertson, chief executive officer of the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, is forecasting a solid rebound, with almost 780,000 passengers expected through the city’s cruise ship terminal – roughly the same number as it saw in 2019.

In March of 2020, Mr. Robertson oversaw preparations for the annual cruising season on the West Coast. The terminal installed extra hand-sanitizing stations in the hopes of protecting against the just-emerging threat of COVID-19. But the first scheduled ship of the season never arrived: The outbreak of the pandemic led to the abrupt cancellation of the cruise season when Transport Canada issued an order prohibiting passenger vessels with capacity of more than 100 from operating in Canada’s waters or ports.

On Monday, federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the prohibition is now over, giving cruise lines the green light to include Canadian ports and destinations for the cruise season, which usually runs from April to November.

Cruise lines are now required to follow public-health guidelines as a condition of accessing Canadian ports. The measures include COVID-19 testing and reporting, and the requirement that all eligible passengers and crew be fully vaccinated.

Mr. Robertson welcomed the new rules, which were announced after months of negotiations between the cruise line industry, Transport Canada and public-health officials. Now, the challenge will be ensuring that the service industry is ready to welcome thousands of visitors at a time.

“Like all tourism- and hospitality-related businesses, the operators are going to be fighting to attract workers,” he said in an interview. “We know the businesses are still around, they have been able to survive for the past two years. They are looking for people to scale up.”

Canada’s ban on cruise ships sparked a furious response from elected officials in Alaska, where the tourism industry was feeling the pain because of a U.S. law that prohibits cruise ships passengers from boarding at a U.S. port and disembarking at another without an international stop in between. The Passenger Vessel Services Act made visits to Canadian ports a vital part of U.S. cruise ship itineraries.

Alaskan senators sponsored legislation that established a temporary waiver from the law, stoking fears that the change could become permanent.

B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, who represents the riding of Victoria-Swan Lake, said the province helped get the federal prohibition lifted in time for the start of the cruise season.

“Our government has been doing everything we can to ensure B.C.’s cruise ship industry comes back safe and strong, including successfully advocating for an earlier safe reopening of our ports – four months earlier than the federal government’s initial plan,” he said in a statement. Mr. Fleming noted there are already 600 bookings for cruise visits to Vancouver and Victoria this year, which would be a 10-per-cent increase over 2019.

“We know that cruise ship passengers want to experience British Columbia, and British Columbians look forward to welcoming them in a month’s time to our cities under safe COVID travel protocols.”

Despite the reopening, Canada urges caution for cruise ship travellers. “The virus that causes COVID-19 can spread easily between people in close quarters on board ships, and the chance of being infected with COVID-19 on cruise ships is very high, even if you have completed a COVID-19 vaccine series,” a federal travel advisory states.

Barry Penner, legal adviser to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in Canada, said the industry was able to demonstrate that cruise travel is safe. “Between December and January, during the height of the Omicron surge in the U.S., cruise ships from U.S. ports carried 600,000 people,” he said. “The number of people who needed to be hospitalized due to COVID from those cruises, you could count on one hand.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect estimate for the number of passengers in 2022.

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