Operators leery of Marine Atlantic hike

Paul Hutchings phutchings@thewesternstar.com
Published on February 11, 2014
Ken Thomas

The announcement of a Marine Atlantic fee hike has some local tourism operators nervous it could signal the beginning of a weaker tourism season than in recent years.

On Monday, the ferry service released its rate schedule for the next two years, which shows a three per cent increase over last year. As of April, the average single adult price will increase from $42.25 to $43.43. Two adults travelling with a vehicle will now pay more than $200, up from $194.37.

Provincial tourism has seen steady increases in recent years, but some hotel operators say any increase in the cost of getting tourists into the province is never a good thing.

Ken Thomas, co-owner of the Seaside Suites in Woody Point, said raising the ferry fees is going in the wrong direction, and he said the service should be more subsidized.

Thomas said Marine Atlantic does have a good product and lauded the ships used by the Crown Corporation. But the increasing costs, he said, could slowly undermine the tire traffic to the island.

“It’s disappointing for small operators to see another roadblock to visitors coming to the island and I haven’t seen the justification for this yet,” he said. “If nothing else, I think it’s important (for Marine Atlantic) to explain why it’s going up so much.”

Under the new price structure a family of four, including two children, will pay $233.40 — up almost $7. A two or four-berth cabin has gone up in price by $3.83 on Port aux Basques crossings to $126.50. Cabin daytime rates are up by $1.53 to $53.30.

Editorial: Another hike

In recent years the Deer Lake Regional Airport has seen its passenger traffic increase significantly, with each of the last four years breaking the record of the previous.

That, said the manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Deer Lake, is one saving grace.

“It doesn’t help with fees going up year after year. It’s not an easy route to travel and it’s expensive,” said Roseanne White. “We do have more airport traffic coming in, which is great, but sometimes there aren’t enough car rentals, which they sometimes struggle with.”

White said limited car rentals means people need to take the ferry if they want a car when they get here.

“I think when the (Labrador) highway is completed it will be much better for us,” she said. “The more traffic we get, the better it will be.”

The airport ended 2013 with a 1.5 per cent increase in passenger traffic throughout the year. Just over 310,700 took off from or landed at the facility, up by about 4,700 in the previous year. That is obviously something in the west coast’s favour, said White, but increasing the cost to the consumer of the ferry service could still affect the area.

In the north part of Gros Morne National Park, Cow Head operators are also watching the fee increases. Shallow Bay Motel manager Darryl House said it is worrisome to see prices go up in any industry, but tourism can be more fragile than others.

“It’s expensive enough now, never mind after this,” said House. “Tourism is a funny thing. I’ve been in this long enough to know that it’s like a wave — it’s always fluctuating.”

In a recent news release, Hospitality NL spoke out against the ferry fee increases, stating that fares have jumped 11 per cent in the last three years.