This undated photo shows a Royal Caribbean ship moored at Prince Rupert’s cruise port. (Creative Commons photo by Province of British Columbia)

The northern British Columbia city of Prince Rupert is looking to an international partner to grow its cruise ship port as the Alaska market continues to expand.

The UK-based firm Global Ports Holding announced last week that it had signed a 10-year agreement with an optional 10-year extension with the Prince Rupert Port Authority to manage cruise services. Head of business development Colin Murphy says they aim to grow Prince Rupert’s tourism sector.

“One of the challenges they have there is that because the volumes have been reasonably low, it’s been difficult for local tour providers and stakeholders to comfortably invest in improving the guest experience by providing more tourism or experiences and so on. So that’s a point of emphasis for us going forward to help Prince Rupert be more successful,” Murphy said in a phone interview Monday.

He says the deal doesn’t commit Global Ports Holding to any infrastructure investments up front, but otherwise declined to discuss the financial terms.

Prince Rupert has welcomed about 41,000 cruise passengers this year, and that’s expected to double next year. Murphy says the one-berth port has already booked calls from cruise company giants Carnival and Princess.

Murphy says he doesn’t expect Prince Rupert to grow as large as some of the massive Alaska cruise ports that welcome more than a million passengers each year — at least, not for a while. But he says Prince Rupert is poised to take advantage of increasing congestion at existing ports, both in Alaska and further south.

“In the long term, we think all of the cruise lines are going to be more focused on finding berths for their ships, so having a port somewhere so close to the Alaska market in Prince Rupert for us is very key,” he said.

Murphy says he expects Prince Rupert to serve primarily as a transit port, rather than somewhere that passengers start or end their cruises. But he says there has been some interest from smaller cruise operators in making Prince Rupert a turnaround port.

Global Ports Holding was one of two companies that bid to take over management of Ketchikan’s port as the community considered a public-private partnership. Ketchikan’s City Council ultimately rejected the bid and chose to keep the port under city management in a 4-3 vote last year. The Prince Rupert deal is the UK company’s first investment in the Alaska market.