Cat Begins Sailing on Sunday
As the Cat ferry prepares to begin its sailing season on May 31, Bay Ferries president and CEO Mark MacDonald says they're doing their best to remain optimistic, but also to be realistic given the economic climate.
"Of course you have to be concerned with the way the economy is right now, but we have a lot of initiatives in the market, a lot of great offers and a big advertising program," MacDonald said last Friday. "So we're trying to remain optimistic, but realistic."
Without getting into numbers, MacDonald said when it comes to advance bookings the company is seeing a shortened booking window.
"It's been a little softer in the pre-season booking stage than we would like to see, but things are moving in the right direction," he said. "We do feel in the recessionary environment that people will book later."
The Cat's 2009 schedule, which will end Oct. 12, is similar to last year's. During the shoulder seasons in June, and most of September and early October, the Cat won't be sailing from Bar Harbor on Wednesdays and it won't sail to and from Portland on Saturdays.
"People coming for the weekend tend to be traveling on Fridays and Sundays," MacDonald explained.
In the height of the summer season the Cat will depart from Bar Harbor on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and leave Portland for Yarmouth on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.
With a decline in tourism, coupled with high fuel costs for the Cat, MacDonald does not hide the fact that the past couple of years, and last year in particular, have been trying times for the Cat service.
In January the province announced that through its Industrial Expansion Fund it would cover financial losses for Bay Ferries on its Yarmouth to Maine run to allow it to remain operational for the 2009 season. It was stated the total amount of assistance was not to exceed $12 million. The money was in addition to the up to $4.4 million the province provided to Bay Ferries previously to help offset a sharp increase in fuel.
"Certainly government has been very supportive in maintaining this service in the way that it needs to be maintained," MacDonald said last week. "We are in a position with the investment that the government has made to continue to run the robust marketing programs that we always have. That doesn't guarantee a result, given the economy that we're in, but it won't be for lack of investment or lack of effort."
In 2008 around 85,000 customers used the Cat service, which also provided employment to around 100 people.