(6 p.m. EST) -- With the 2010 Winter Olympics set to kick off on February 12 in Vancouver, officials hoping to boost interest in cruise travel in the Alaska region have decided to position four cruise ships in the area as floating hotels. But, according to the Vancouver Sun, at least one of the groups chartering a ship may scrap the idea after booking numbers have proven to be less than stellar.
Newwest Special Projects, which organizes special travel events, has chartered NCL's Norwegian Star for the games but has had to slash prices twice to entice passengers to book, despite a nine-month-long marketing push to sell cabins. Fares, which started out at $1,300 a night, have since been decreased to $500 a night and are now down to just $275 a night. That's still a steep price to pay to sleep in an inside cabin on a cruise ship that's not even going anywhere, but a reasonable amount in comparison to available land-based hotel rooms in the area. One of the only open rooms we could find for February 13 (which also happens to be during Valentine's Day weekend) was a queen bed suite at the Days Inn Vancouver for $832 Canadian (about $788 U.S.).
However, the ship's post-Olympics cruise from Vancouver to Los Angeles -- also chartered by Newwest -- is rumored to be sold out, according to trade Web site cruise-community.com. At this point, we're not sure whether that means there's little interest in the games or merely little interest in sleeping on an immobile cruise ship -- or both. A spokesperson for Newwest did not respond to our request for additional information by press time; a spokeswoman for Norwegian Cruise Line was not able to comment on the rumors at this point.
This isn't the first time cruise ships have been used to accommodate Olympic guests -- ships were also used in Athens in 2004 and Sydney in 2000. This time around, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have also chartered ships -- three of them, including Holland America's Statendam and Oosterdam, as well as Carnival Elation -- to house security personnel at a cost of nearly $72 million, but those will be docked at Ballantyne Pier, away from Norwegian Star, and will not offer cabins to the general public.
Over the past couple of years, the Alaska market (of which Vancouver is a key part) has been on the decline, and several lines -- including Princess and Royal Caribbean -- have scaled back their presence in the area. Local officials have estimated that the Vancouver area will see roughly 300,000 fewer cruise passengers in 2010 as a result.
Greg Wirtz, manager of trade development at Port Metro Vancouver, said the ships in port for the Olympics really won't do much in the way of offsetting the area's losses, but he hopes the games will help to generate buzz for the region and possibly increase the number of sailings scheduled for the next few years. Although Wirtz said the 2009 Alaska market saw an increase of about five percent from 2008, the region will lose about 70 sailings in 2010, accounting for a decrease of about 30 percent in tourism revenue. But, several infrastructure upgrades -- including rapid transit between the airport and downtown, as well as traffic-flow improvements -- have been made in an attempt to coax more interest from cruise lines such as Disney, which will sail Alaska itineraries for the first time this year.
With just three days left to book a cabin on Norwegian Star, it will be interesting to see if prices are further slashed or if the plug is pulled on the entire plan, which cost Newwest more than $10 million to implement, between leasing the ship and making renovations to the Kinder Morgan industrial dock in North Vancouver, where the ship will be docked.
We'll keep you posted.
--by Ashley Kosciolek, Copy Editor
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Vancouver or Bust: Will Cruise Ships Sink as Floating Hotels for the Winter Olympics?
February 2, 2010