BOSTON — The operator of the Nova Star brought its ship to Boston on Monday in a highly visible effort to lure Massachusetts residents to drive to Portland and then ride the ferry to Nova Scotia this summer.
Nova Scotia’s government and the ferry’s operator are spending millions of dollars in the Northeast this year on print, radio and television ads, in a major push to sell tickets and revive the province’s slumping tourism economy.
Portland’s tourism industry stands to benefit because many of the travelers are expected to spend money in Portland. Starting Thursday, the ferry will leave the city every night at 9 p.m. and return the next day at 7 p.m.
Although the ship will sail between Portland and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the company that operates it, Nova Star Cruises, held its christening in Boston to get as much media attention as possible in the critical Boston market.
Officials are targeting the area, which stretches from southern New Hampshire to Cape Cod, because it’s the largest market within a short drive of Portland. It has 2.4 million households with television sets, and in 2012 the median household income in Greater Boston was nearly $72,000.
David Boggs, a travel writer from Boothbay Harbor who toured the ship Monday, said the fares may be too expensive for many people, noting that it will cost a couple more than $1,000 during the peak season to rent a cabin for a round trip and pay the fare for a car.
“The fact they are concentrating all their marketing on Boston shows they are focusing on the high end,” he said.
“There is plenty of money down here,” said his wife, Blanche Boggs.
Nova Scotia will spend $3 million Canadian to advertise on Boston television stations, in newspapers, on billboards and in Fenway Park. At the same time, Nova Star Cruises plans to spend nearly the same amount of money.
The ferry operator ran a full-page ad Sunday in The New York Times, and is running ads in AAA travel guides, The Boston Globe, and Yankee and Downeast magazines. It also is advertising on billboards, particularly on highways north of Boston, including interstates 495, 95 and 93.
The company shot a commercial Monday aboard the ship with Boston TV personality Susan Warnick. The commercial will run in coming weeks on WCVB-TV in Boston.
About 40 percent of the U.S. visitors to Nova Scotia – about 60,000 people a year – come from New England, said Patrick Sullivan, who heads the Nova Scotia Tourism Agency.
Since the advertising campaign began at the end of February, page views at www.novascotia.com have increased 1,000 percent, he said.
The number of American visitors to Nova Scotia has been falling for 10 years, said Daniel Morton, director of cruise marketing and business development for Nova Star Cruises. “It’s time to turn that around,” he said.
Nova Star Cruises spokesman Dennis Bailey had no numbers for bookings on Monday, but said the company is encouraged by the number of inquiries and ticket sales. He said the service is getting a late start and the target market in Greater Boston is just now learning about it.
“This is a real startup venture,” Bailey said.
Perhaps the ferry service’s greatest marketing tool is the ship, said Lisa Arnold, the company’s vice president of marketing and product development.
“It’s a big billboard all by itself,” she said.
The 528-foot ferry pulled into the Black Falcon terminal in Boston shortly after 10 a.m. Monday while a tugboat sprayed two fountains of water into the air.
A half-dozen officials from Nova Scotia, as well as a drummer and piper wearing traditional Scottish kilts, greeted the vessel when it arrived. After some speeches and music, Mayor Pam Mood of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, smashed a bottle of champagne against the side of the ship’s bow cargo entrance.
“I christen thee Nova Star. May God bless this ship and everyone who sails on this,” Mood said.
It was actually the second time the $165 million ship was christened. In 2011, in the shipyard in Singapore where it was built, it was christened the Norman Leader, for a French shipping company that had ordered it built for a route crossing the English Channel.
The company, LD Lines, terminated the contract that year, citing construction delays and the vessel’s “deficiency in dead-weight capacity.”
Dead-weight is a ship’s total carrying capacity. Nova Star officials said it won’t be a problem for the Gulf of Maine route because the vessel won’t carry many heavy trucks.
Gerald Tetrault, 73, who drove two hours from the western Massachusetts town of Westfield to see the Nova Star arrive Monday, said the ship appears larger and more impressive than in photographs.
Tetrault traveled on several of the ferry’s predecessors, including the Scotia Prince, the Prince of Fundy, the Bolero and the Evangeline. He refused to ride the most recent ferry, the Cat, a high-speed catamaran that operated from 2006 to 2009, because he prefers the style and amenities of a traditional ferry.
Tetrault said price is no object, and he and his girlfriend plan to take several trips on the ferry. He said he admires the pluck of the ferry’s owner for taking the risk of trying to revive the service.
“After decades of having made this run, I am invigorated by the thought of this ambitious venture,” he said.
The ship will call Tuesday on Portsmouth, N.H. Tours will be offered to officials, local media outlets and tour operators.
The ship will arrive in Portland on Wednesday, when similar invitation-only tours will be offered. It will depart Thursday for Yarmouth on its maiden journey.
Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: