By all accounts the first season of the Northern Sea Wolf has been a success so far. Sailings are full, customers are happy and communities are reaping the benefits.
“Response from our customers has been positive, and our crew has enjoyed welcoming tourists and local residents on board. The seasonal direct service between Port Hardy and Bella Coola has been popular. We transported more than 2500 passengers between June 3 (when direct service began) and July 31. Vehicle capacity has been just over 80 per cent during the same time period,” said Astrid Braunschmidt, BC Ferries Manager, Communications and Media Relations. “Passengers have commented on the breathtaking scenery, as the journey showcases the world-renowned Great Bear Rainforest. We have also heard that visitors enjoy the direct sailing, as it allows them to experience BC in a circle tour across the Chilcotin Plateau, along the Gold Rush Trail and through Vancouver Island.”
It was a rough start: the ferry was over budget and delayed by a year. Tourism operators, still feeling the pinch of the cancelled sailing and the negative reviews of the Nimpkish, were frustrated by the delays and anxious to see the ferry finally launch. However, the wait appears to be over and the results have been good for tourism from Port Hardy all the way to Bella Coola and into the Chilcotin.
“I can definitely say that with the Northern Sea Wolf sailing direct to Bella Coola we have seen a major in-flux of visitors coming into our community this year than in the past,” said Sandra McLaughlin, Visitor Services Supervisor/Events Coordinator with the Port Hardy Chamber of Commerce. “We think it is a great service provided not just for visitors coming to B.C. but for the locals as well, and we hope it continues sailing directly to Bella Coola in the future.”
Darin Guenette, BC Ferries Public Affairs Manager, said that most of the upcoming bookings are near capacity: there are 12 more sailings between now and the end of the August. Of those, 10 are booked to at least 95 percent of the vehicle deck space, which essentially means full, or maybe space for one regular vehicle. The other two sailings are at 87 percent capacity.
“There are 22 sailings in September and from Sept. 3 to 14, those sailings are booked to at least at 90 percent, except for one sailing at 77 percent,” said Guenette. “Interestingly, from Sept. 15 to 31, the bookings are between 44 and 89 percent full, with an average of approximately 60 percent. So, some room available on all sailings, but bookings are going well.”
There are eight sailings in October from Oct. 1 – 11 and bookings have yet to fill up: capacity is ranging between 16 and 34 percent full.
Tom Hermance, President of Bella Coola Valley Tourism, says he and his members are very pleased with the way things have been turning out.
“Many of our accommodation providers are full to the brim every night and we are having trouble finding rooms for everyone, especially during ferry days. This is a good problem to have,” said Hermance. “Now that Bella Coola has a successful ferry service, I hope more residents take this opportunity to get involved with Tourism. Whether it’s accommodations, guides or retail, Bella Coola residents have a unique perspective of life on the Central Coast and have a lot to offer. Business aside, there’s a real satisfaction when guests leave happy and full of stories about the Valley.”
Jayme Kennedy, owner of Bella Coola Mountain Lodge, says she’s noticed a major increase in bookings since the ferry service began.
“At our lodge and in our bistro we have seen a marked increase in business on days when the Northern Sea Wolf arrives,” Kennedy said. “We are hearing great things from guests about their experience on the ferry and many who say that they wished they had planned to stay longer in the Valley.”
Overall it’s been a good year for BC Ferries. The company provided more than 700 additional round trips compared to the same period last year to accommodate higher traffic volumes and deliver the increased service levels agreed to with the province.
The introduction of the Northern Sea Wolf into service and the upgrade of the Spirit of Vancouver Island back contributed to a 7.3 per cent increase in revenue and a corresponding five per cent increase in expenses, compared to the first quarter of the previous fiscal year.
Net earnings for the first quarter of fiscal 2020 were $12.2 million, more than double the $6 million total for the same quarter of the previous year.