Huddle.Today – December 16, 2022

Alex Graham | Featured, New Brunswick, Saint John 

SAINT JOHN — It’s been a tough few years for the cruise industry but Saint John’s Aquila Tours took the two-year “covid pause” and used it to strengthen its business, and the voice of the industry, on the national level.

In November, Danielle Timmons, co-owner of Aquila Tours, was awarded the Cruise Saint John Cruise Champion award. Presented by Port Saint John, the award acknowledged her efforts and advocacy for the survival of the cruise industry, and the businesses that support it, during this critical period.

“This specific award was for Danielle and her non-stop efforts throughout Covid to support the Cruise industry in not only Saint John, but really throughout North America and beyond,” says Mike Belliveau, president of Hospitality Saint John.

“This specific award was for Danielle and her non-stop efforts throughout Covid to support the Cruise industry in not only Saint John, but really throughout North America and beyond,” says Mike Belliveau, president of Hospitality Saint John.

Advocacy needed

Timmons chairs the Tourism Industry Association of Canada’s National Cruise Committee representing all areas of Canada that welcome, and run, cruises including Atlantic Canada, British Colombia, Quebec, Ontario, and Northern Canada.  Her expertise comes from her work at Aquila Tours, which provides tour experiences for cruise ship passengers arriving in Saint John.

“It was in recognition of the time that not just I, but many people, spent trying to get cruise to come back to Canada,” Timmons says of the award.

Prior to the establishment of the committee, the cruise industry had no formal industry representation, as other travel sectors did. The industry contributes $4.3 billion a year to Canada’s economy and is responsible for 30,000 jobs across the country. The pause the industry took during Covid was a challenging time that took its toll on many operators.

The goal of the committee was to advocate on the national level for the industry, sending a clear message that the sector was ready to safely welcome ships back to Canada.

“[Canada] was one of the most conservative countries in the world when it came to cruise,” she explains. She notes that, worldwide, the industry actually started back up again, albeit in a reduced capacity, in August of 2020. In the late spring of 2021, Canadian cruise organizations recognized a need to organize and advocate for their industry.

“There was a lot of work done by myself and many other people across Canada trying to work with government … to try to make it happen so that we would be able to have cruise back to Canada,” Timmons says.

That work involved collaboration with a number of different federal agencies including Public Health, Transport Canada, and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

“Danielle has shown steadfast commitment and passion for the industry through countless hours dedicated to advocating for the recovery of cruise in Canada,” says Beth Potter, the president and CEO of the Tourism Industry Association of Canada.

“In big part due to Danielle’s leadership, the cruise industry was set up for success to rebound for the 2022 season.”

Potter says the TIAC will continue to work with the new committee on areas of interest for the cruise industry in Canada. And Timmons says she will continue to act as chair.

“We are carrying on,” Timmons says of the committee. She notes that cruise is a unique part of Canada’s tourism industry because not every province has ports. “We are trying to make sure that we still have a voice: that we’re all collaborating and working together.”

“We work closely with the Association of Canadian Port Authorities as well,” says Timmons. “We have a lot of common goals.”

40-year history

But Timmons’ national work isn’t the only reason to acknowledge the impact Aquila has had on the Saint John tourism and hospitality sector, Belliveau says.

“Danielle [and Aquila] have been unquestioned leaders in quality of product and quality of service and are one of the primary reasons that cruise lines consider Saint John a ‘must see” port of call.’ Cruise Saint John is quite fortunate to have such a dedicated champion,” she says.

Founded in 1982, Aquila Tours marks its 40th anniversary this year. The company started out as a tour company in the pre-cruise ship era, founded by Timmons’ mother, Beth Kelly Hatt.

“I should start by saying she’s extremely entrepreneurial, you know, those like serial entrepreneurs, right?” Timmons says of her mother with a grin.

“My mom started the company when I was eight. We had lived in Fredericton and she decided to take a tour because she wasn’t really familiar with Saint John.”

“She took the tour and it was terrible, and she thought she could do a better job. So she started Aquila in 1982 with that in mind. And it grew from there.”

Today, it offers a number of excursions to cruise ship passengers from around the world, both in Saint John and in coastal towns like Saint Martins and Saint Andrews that ring the Bay of Fundy.

Aquila is also known for its tour company training, for other cruise line tour operators at ports of call around the world. In 2019 Aquila visited 35 destinations delivering training to cruise-focused tour operations like theirs.  In 2020, instead of abandoning training, they embraced it, providing virtual training for partners across the globe. During the downtime of the pandemic, this initiative helped keep their own team active and engaged while reaching out and maintaining relationships, in preparation for the return to normal.

This year they’ve marked their 40 years in the community by giving back in volunteer time, and donations to the local food bank, in recognition of the tough times Saint Johners and all Canadians are facing.

If 2022 was the return to almost normal, 2023 promises to be even better for the Saint John cruise industry.

“Full ships, more ships, bigger ships,” she says of what’s anticipated for the 2023 cruising season.  “We’re, of course, always working on new products and new experiences.”