June 22, 2018
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Man who helped rebuild Nova Scotia beach resort after fire joins effort to revive Portland ferry service

By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Danny Morton, who helped rebuild a popular Nova Scotia beach resort after a devastating fire, has been hired as the director of marketing and business development for the firm preparing to restore ferry service between the Canadian province and Portland.

Morton, who worked as the general manager of White Point Beach Resort for more than two decades, was part of a management team that worked to rebuild and reopen the destination one year after a 2011 blaze leveled its historic main lodge.

Now Morton will be asked to help rebuild and reopen another tourist attraction: The Portland-Nova Scotia ferry service, which flamed out in 2009 when the Canadian province cut off subsidies for the connection after years of financial losses and declining ridership.

Nova Star Cruises Ltd., a company forming from the partnership between Eliot-based Quest Navigation and Singapore shipbuilder ST Marine, has a deal with Nova Scotia to receive $21 million in provincial subsidies to restart the Maine ferry connection by May 1 of next year.

November has seen a flurry of activity in the long-awaited revival of the service, starting with the announcement of a signed agreement between STM Quest and provincial leaders more than two weeks ago. That was followed by a high-profile meeting between ferry operators, Nova Scotia officials and their Maine counterparts, including Gov. Paul LePage and Portland Mayor Michael Brennan on the U.S. side of the connection.

Now, Nova Star Cruises is promoting the hiring of Morton, who has spent 30 years in Nova Scotia’s tourism and hospitality industries, as a key addition as the company seeks to build toward long-term viability.

In order to receive the $21 million in provincial aid — which breaks down to $10.5 million in startup help and $1.5 million in annual marketing subsidies for seven years — the ferry service had to convince Nova Scotia officials it will be profitable and no longer need government help by the end of that seven-year term.

“[Morton’s] extensive experience, knowledge, and relationships within the tourism industry will be invaluable in helping us establish and build a long-term, sustainable cruise ferry service,” said Owen John, Nova Star vice president of sales and marketing, in a statement.

Morton will be based in Halifax, according to a company announcement, and will be a driving force behind what the firm is calling its “Nova Star Discovery” program, which will bundle ferry passage with on-land room, board and other tourism offerings for travelers making the trip.

The Nova Star, which is the name with which the ferry vessel will be christened, is a new 528-foot cruise ship that will have capacity for 1,250 passengers and 300 vehicles, and will feature a casino, three restaurants, a theater, spa and art gallery. The ship will depart from Portland daily at 8 p.m. and arrive in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the following day at 7 a.m. local time.

Return trips will leave Yarmouth at 9 a.m. and reach Portland at 5 p.m.

The restoration of ferry service will come after five years without the seabound connection between Portland and Nova Scotia. The 2009 demise of the high-speed CAT ferry ended more than 50 years of Maine-Nova Scotia ferry service, starting with a Bar Harbor connection and going on to include about 35 years of routes to Portland as well.

In 2011, Morton was the head of the White Point Beach Resort when the 83-year-old main lodge burned down. In what became a widely publicized reclamation story in Canada, he helped scramble to arrange alternate plans for a couple scheduled to be married at the site when the fire took hold, and then led efforts to rebuild and reopen the resort a year later.

Morton will try to similarly recapture the magic for the ferry service, which is projected to deliver 100,000 passengers to Nova Scotia’s shores in its first year, but must reach about 130,000 annual riders in order to be profitable, according to company leaders.

“I’m thrilled to be a part of this exciting opportunity for Nova Scotia and to join the Nova Star Cruises team,” said Morton, a board member of both the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency and Tourism Industry Association of Canada, in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for me personally, and also for Nova Scotia as we begin work to restore cruise ferry service between Yarmouth and Portland, Maine.

“Nova Star Cruises presents a unique opportunity for visitors to, and tourism operators in, Nova Scotia and New England, and I look forward to working with industry partners to develop and market this vital link between Canada and the United States,” he continued.

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