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The Guardian     
Monday, October 23, 2006

A fresh face on the capital’s waterfront

The future of our wharf is as important to locals as to visitors it will welcome.

Islanders saw a flurry of spending last week when federal Atlantic Canada Opportunities Minister Peter MacKay dropped by with some cheques, but one of the more interesting projects announced was the creation of a cruise ship welcome centre for the Charlottetown waterfront.

If Charlottetown intends to grow its cruise ship business, it needs a top-notch welcome centre that visitors find appealing at first glance.  After all, this is their first view of the Island.  The question that needs to be asked is:  what do we want them to first set their sights on?

According to the announcement last week, ACOA will contribute $500,000 to develop the potato wharf warehouse as a first stop for marine passengers.  The Charlottetown Harbour Authority will chip in $200,000.

This is a worthwhile investment.  The cruise ship industry is a booming global business.  Kim Green of Tourism Charlottetown told a forum on the cruise industry last summer that the industry worldwide has grown 1,400 per cent in the last 10 years.  Charlottetown is already reaping some of the benefits of that growth.  Tourism Charlottetown has estimated that the economic impact of the cruise ship in the capital city should exceed $3 million this year, up from $2.1 million in 2005.  Plans by the Charlottetown Harbour Authority to expand and reconstruct the pier are expected to allow for a 100 percent growth in cruise passengers by 2010.

Achieving this won’t be easy or without controversy.  Critics of the cruise ship industry have cautioned the province to move slowly, and to ensure that those who do visit our port are held to regulations governing the disposal of sewage and bilge water.  That’s simply sensible.  Who wins if we build an industry that is allowed to compromise the health and quality of the water surrounding the Island?

There are other challenges, too.  One is working in co-operation, not competition, with other Maritime ports, something that was recommended by a speaker at last summer’s forum.  As well, those interested in promoting the cruise ship industry have to work with the province’s hospitality and service sectors to ensure the province is able to respond to the needs of large infusions of visitors.

A new cruise ship welcoming centre on the Charlottetown waterfront is an important feature in this big picture.  But what kind of welcoming centre should be built?  That merits some extensive consultation.  Those with the task of developing PEI’s welcome centre on the Charlottetown waterfront should invite Islanders to give their ideas on what should define their welcome centre.

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