VICTORIA -- After the COVID-19 pandemic prematurely ended the 2020 cruise ship season, officials with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) say they are optimistic that cruise ships will return next year, though a lot will need to change in the industry before cruise passengers arrive in the region.

The organization says in order for cruse ships to be welcomed back to the port at Ogden Point, cruise lines will need to demonstrate that safety protocols are in place for both passengers and crew.

Cruise ship operators will be required to have constant COVID-19 testing procedures in place which are up to the satisfaction of Transport Canada, B.C. health officials and the harbour authority.

“We have to feel confident that the cruise passengers coming into Victoria are safe,” said GVHA CEO Ian Robertson. “We have to ensure our community is safe from COVID-19.”

Most cruise lines are represented by the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA). The association has been instructing its members to not sail anywhere in the world until after Oct. 31, 2020.

However, Robertson acknowledges that news of recent COVID-19 outbreaks on non-CLIA cruise ships operating in European waters is a concern.

“Quite honestly, I think they are doing more harm to the industry than good,” said Robertson. “I can understand their desire to sail again, but at the end of the day, the health and safety of the passengers, crew and the communities they serve must be number one.”

With the cancellation of the 2020 cruise ship season, the GVHA has seen a dramatic 70 per cent drop in revenue. The result has been a loss of $3-million for the harbour authority.

“That loss is very difficult for us to manage,” said Robertson. “We’re not able to maintain work on major projects that we normally would.”

The harbour authority has delayed construction of the new Huron Pier at Fisherman’s Wharf. The pier was previously used by commercial fisherman to unload their catch and was closed in 2019.

Meanwhile, scheduled work on the Broughton Pier, adjacent to Victoria’s seaplane terminal, has also been shelved indefinitely.

Robertson says cruise lines that bring passengers to Victoria are optimistic that cruise ships will return to the city in 2021. He says that cruises to Alaska have always be viewed as safe by people who want a shipboard vacation, which is good news for the region.

Although Robertson is optimistic that there will be a 2021 cruise ship season, the future remains uncertain.

“If you had asked me a couple of months ago, I would have said, ‘Yes, 100 per cent we’ll see a return of cruises in 2021,’” said Robertson.

“(But) the longer the U.S. demonstrates their lack of ability to get (COVID-19) under control and as we continue to see spikes, my point right now is, yes, the 2021 season has a bit of a question mark against it.”