Arctic Canadian community plans $100 tax per passenger for cruise ships this season

Passengers off the Crystal Serenity cruise ship head to shore near Cambridge Bay in 2016. (Jane George/CBC)

So far, there have been ‘no quibbles,’ with the requested payment, says economic development officer

When a giant cruise ship called the Crystal Serenity arrived in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, in 2016, hundreds of the approximate 1,500 passengers and crew on board disembarked.

They walked round town where some left contributions at the Anglican Church and others spent their money at an arts fair, or bought a selection of local foods.

But many passengers stayed on board.

Now, a new tax will guarantee some revenues to Cambridge Bay whether or not passengers decide to disembark.

With the Arctic cruise ship season set to start in July, Cambridge Bay – the western gateway to the Northwest Passage – has instituted a $100 per passenger tax.

The $100 charge is “based on the costs of the entertainment that the municipality supplies to the visiting passengers,” said Angela Gerbrandt, the community’s economic development officer.

Cambridge Bay’s heritage park, which lies between the municipal offices and the store, features many older buildings that cruise ship visitors can see during a walking tour of the community. (Jane George/CBC)

This entertainment includes guided walking tours through the community to sites such as the heritage park and Canadian High Arctic Research Station, interpreters and a rest-stop with local food samples and tea at the community hall.

Councillors passed the cruise ship agreement in April, which will now form “the basis of a 2022 cruise ship season welcome,” it says.

The money also goes to cover the extra burden on municipal services when hundreds of cruise ship passengers are in the town of about 2,000.

Before the two-year ban of cruise ship and pleasure yacht traffic in Canadian Arctic waters, Cambridge Bay saw many cruise vessels arrive at its shores.

This year, so far eight vessels have said they are coming to Cambridge Bay this season, from July 29 through Sept. 9. These include a luxurious mega-yacht and a new hybrid cruise ship from the Norwegian shipping line Hurtigruten.

Ships must write and pay a deposit of 50 per cent of the estimated passenger load 30 days before arriving in the community.

So far, there have been “no quibbles,” with the requested payment, said Gerbrandt.

A visitor fresh off another cruise ship (not the Crystal Serenity) in Cambridge Bay in 2016 takes a close-up view of a polar bear on display at the community hall. (Jane George/CBC)

The idea of a passenger tax is not new.

In 2020, the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA) had planned to capitalize on the growing cruise ship market in the Baffin region with $25 per day fee applied to every passenger on a cruise ship accessing Inuit-owned lands.

The new fee was never instituted due to the ban on cruise ships in 2020 and 2021.

Alaska, a hub for Arctic cruises, has had a similar tax of about $50 in place for years.

Related stories from around the North: 

United States: Skagway, Alaska, feeling pain of Canada’s ban on cruise ships, CBC News

Jane George, CBC News

Jane George is now a reporter-editor at CBC Nunavut. Prior to August 2021, George worked at Nunatsiaq News for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her stories.

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