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Energizing the cruise industry

By BCShippingNews 16 April 2018
Mary Ann Isinger and Steve Hnatko
CIABC renews its call for a strong voice for cruise in B.C.

Mary-Ann Isinger is wearing two hats these days. As Manager, Port Operations for Holland America Group, her experience with over 100 ports around the world provides a unique perspective — one that is put to good use in her role as President, Cruise Industry Association of B.C. (CIABC).

Since CIABC was established in 1986, both it and the local cruise industry it represents have seen many changes: the opening of Canada Place, one of the world’s top-rated cruise terminals; the pre-911 days where one could simply walk on board a ship without so much as a glance from staff; the post-911 days where security added a new layer to logistics; the ebbs and flows of traffic — peaks in the late 1990s, dips in the early 2000s and stellar growth in the past 10 years, especially for Vancouver and Victoria. Through it all, in one form or another, CIABC has been there. Now, a new chapter in the association’s history is unfolding.

Isinger, along with Treasurer Steve Hnatko, General Manager, West Coast Agencies (citing only one of the roles he plays in the Tidal Transportation family of companies), and a Board of Directors who represent the many sectors impacted by the fortunes of cruise, are breathing new life into CIABC and, at the same time, reinvigorating B.C.’s cruise industry.

A return to its roots

“CIABC represents those businesses in British Columbia that make this industry work,” said Isinger in a recent interview with BC Shipping News. “It has always been an inclusive association for anyone involved in the local cruise industry and its mandate has never changed since Day One: to foster the economic growth of the B.C. cruise industry and to enhance business opportunities for its members.” 

Having been involved with CIABC during its formative years, Isinger can attest to the consistency of messaging. “Our core activities have always involved creating a link to cruise line representatives — for example, organizing a presence at the Seatrade Cruise Convention in Florida, networking events like onboard luncheons, membership directories and capabilities guides. These initiatives gave members an opportunity not only to build relationships with cruise line representatives but to also come together as a community and support one another.”

Indeed, at its peak in the mid-2000s, CIABC’s membership reflected the many businesses and services that were needed to provide a smooth experience for lines visiting B.C.’s West Coast. A victim of its own success, volunteers within the association found less and less time to focus on growing the industry as an ever-increasing workload took their attention.

By 2012, the association saw an opportunity to more effectively represent members through a closer collaboration with Cruise BC, a destination marketing association with a funding model that provided greater opportunities to promote the province’s appeal and capabilities directly to cruise lines. For the next few years, CIABC and Cruise BC jointly organized a B.C. Pavilion at Seatrade, hosted events and provided a platform for promotion of B.C.’s industry.

When Cruise BC ceased operations, the local industry found itself without a central hub. While Cruise Lines International Association — North West and Canada (CLIA-NWC) has always been there to provide that crucial link to the cruise lines, local businesses have been challenged in finding a community of support amongst themselves.

Enter CIABC 2.0 — a re-energized non-profit association with an eager board who wants to regain the strength that comes from a cohesive industry. “As port operations manager, I see how much behind-the-scenes activity it takes to ensure smooth operations for a cruise vessel visit,” Isinger said. “Working with appointed agents in each port, we deal with things like customs and security, immigration, fuel bunkering, provisioning, port regulations, and medical affairs for crew — if one person doesn’t show up or doesn’t do their job, it impacts on the entire chain. And we’re only as strong as our weakest link.” It’s for this reason that Isinger sees the need to create a network of support.

Isinger isn’t the only one who feels the industry can only get stronger through re-establishing CIABC.  She and Hnatko, along with founding director George Kowalski (Vancouver Shipyards), returning directors Peter Lehmann, Vice President (Envirosystems), Michael Waddington (Clean Air Services) and James Collins (Tymac Launch Services Ltd.), have been meeting over the past six months to restore the association to its former glory. Supported by Joan D’Angola, CIABC’s office manager, the team has been working hard to lay the foundation that CIABC previously enjoyed.

Having been with the association since 1986, Kowalski’s experience both with CIABC’s activities and the local cruise industry are extensive. His position as Manager, International Marketing and Harbour Repair for Vancouver Shipyards means he is the go-to guy for many of the cruise line representatives when they are in need of service on Canada’s West Coast. “With someone as knowledgeable and as connected as George on the Board,  CIABC members are able to seek out his advice on potential new business opportunities,” said Isinger.

Another familiar industry face who is lending his guidance and expertise is Brian Ellis, recently retired from Holland America Group but still very much a part of the cruise industry.

Building a community

Estimates from the most recent CLIA-NWC economic impact study (2016) show the cruise industry as having a $2.2-billion direct and indirect economic impact in British Columbia. The study further noted that 15,000 direct and indirect jobs rely on the cruise sector in B.C. with total wages and salaries amounting to some $712 million. Those numbers aren’t lost on CIABC directors.

Recognizing the significance of the cruise industry to British Columbia, “there’s very much a role for CIABC to play in becoming a central hub for the local industry,” said Steve Hnatko as he outlined some of the initiatives being planned for the coming months. “There are a number of projects we’d like to see implemented over the next year — for example, a fresh website, newsletters and networking events to start but also address some of the important issues that come up every year just before the cruise season starts. There are always new regulations or new procedures and we see a lot of value in hosting sessions where experts can provide updates.

“Another initiative we would like to see come back is the shared presence at Seatrade,” he continued. “Having a central spot for members without the expense of a full booth and full-time staffing was of great value for many smaller businesses that couldn’t have a presence on the trade show floor. This is something we’re hoping to have organized in time for the 2019 show.”

Another idea that reflects the current needs of members includes using the association as a resource for employment opportunities. “We see a lot of value in establishing a mentor or apprenticeship program and connecting local training institutes with members. This provides an excellent opportunity for members to gain access to new employees as well as have students gain hands-on experience in the industry.”

Both Isinger and Hnatko believe the association can play a key role beyond providing a network for local industry players. Having named the Mission to Seafarers as the benefactor of funds raised through networking events, one of the goals for the refreshed association is to provide support for crew from visiting cruise ships. “Activities like shoebox campaigns (boxes with basic necessities) not only provide support to seafarers but have a way of strengthening the local industry in the process,” said Isinger, further noting that seafarer centres play an important role in acting as a “glue” for the local industry.

Call to action

The next steps for CIABC’s board will ultimately define the success of the association moving forward. Hnatko noted that, in these formative months, it will be very important to engage old and new members alike and ask them to identify those issues that are most important to them as well as suggest ways CIABC can help to address those issues.

“Using Tymac as an example, we are always trying to find ways to better communicate with government, ports, cruise lines and suppliers on the sensitivities around environmental stewardship,” he said. “CIABC provides that conduit to help everyone understand local regulations and ensure that operations can move ahead without issue.”

As noted previously, CIABC has always been an inclusive association and, when asked about potential members, Hnatko and Isinger started listing off the various sectors involved in the industry that would benefit from a closer relationship. From the local fish supplier or chandlery on through to shipyards, shipping agents, marine service and supplies providers, stevedores, tourism services, governments, port authorities and even the cruise lines themselves will all be invited to join.

In addition, they both see building relationships with other marine associations and non-profit organizations as critical to forging a true sense of community. “Take the Vancouver Maritime Museum, for example,” said Isinger. “There are ways we can be of benefit to each other — we can provide a source of visitors by promoting the museum to passengers and they are able to tell the industry’s story through exhibits.”

Listening to the needs of members, finding ways to address their issues and providing support is just one side of the social contract, noted Isinger. “CIABC will need industry support through participation,” she said. “Over the next few months, we’ll be reaching out to all sectors and potential members and we’d like to encourage everyone to get behind us and show their support of the association.”

To get in touch with any of CIABC’s directors or learn more about membership, contact Joan D’Angola at info@ciabc.ca (604-619-9699).