Clipper ferry anchored again due to low passenger numbers

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Less than a month after sailing resumed, the Clipper has ceased operations due to low passenger numbers, the surge in the COVID-19 Delta variant, and the added barrier of COVID tests to entry into Canada.

Clipper CEO David Gudgel said the passenger numbers just weren’t there to support the ship’s restart schedule.

He said there had been a decent response in early September but bookings dried up after the long Thanksgiving weekend.

“Our goal here was never to make up for our losses, we just wanted to make up for operating costs,” he said. “The point here was to get our crews to work and restore service and fix the kinks in operation.”

The Clipper V passenger ferry, which operates between Victoria and Seattle, made its first voyage since March 2020 on September 17.

With the U.S. naval border closed to Canadians, the plan was to operate on weekends four days a week.

Gudgel said the rider does not cover the cost of fuel, labor and port fees.

“We need to make sure this company is strong in the future and will be able to start again when there is real opportunity to do something,” he said.

The big question is how to keep many of the company’s well-trained employees who are now looking for new jobs or have to apply for unemployment benefits again.

“At this point, I don’t know [if we can keep them]”It is a huge risk for us and my greatest concern,” he said, noting that for many, US COVID unemployment benefits expired on September 3rd. “That’s why we were so relieved that we could start over.”

Gudgel said the company knew it would be a challenging restart as it would restart in the off-season as another wave of COVID hit North America.

He noted that requiring a negative COVID test prior to arriving in Canada proved to be a significant barrier for many passengers.

Passengers were also required to be fully vaccinated at least 14 days prior to arrival in Canada, provide proof of vaccination and submit travel information via the ArriveCAN web portal within 72 hours of arrival.

Paul Nursey, CEO of Destination Greater Victoria, said the suspension of the passenger ferry service was disappointing but understandable.

“We kept our powder really dry when we re-entered the US market until next spring,” he said of his organization’s marketing efforts to attract tourists to the island. “We wanted to see how the PCR works [COVID] Tests would be and how much of a barrier they would be – and it seems they are a huge barrier to Canada from the US. “

Ryan Burles, president of Black Ball, which operates the Coho car ferry between Victoria and Port Angeles in Washington, said he understands the position of Clipper Canadians.

“I sympathize with them because they did their best and it obviously wasn’t going to work,” he said. “I give you all the credit for trying to restart business and keep your people working.”

Burles said that Black Ball would love to go this fall to cater to the Snowbird crowd and take advantage of the usually heavy holiday season spring.

Gudgel said his Germany-based parent company, FRS, is committed to the Victoria-Seattle service. The company operates a fleet of 74 ships in eight countries.

“We’re the second largest producer of revenue in the portfolio, it’s a big deal not to have us up and running,” he said.

Passengers with Clipper bookings will be offered a refund or discounted travel credit for returning service in 2022.

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© Copyright Times Colonist

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