Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thunder Bay Works the Crowd at Seatrade 2009

Seatrade Cruise Shipping Miami 2009 ( has come and gone and for the second year in a row, Tourism Thunder Bay had an enhanced presence at the world's largest gathering of cruise shipping industry decision makers.

As part of the 25 member Great Lakes Cruising Coalition or GLCC (, I attended this year's event for the second year in a row, bringing a dedicated Lake Superior flavour to the exhibition. This year, I joined the Executive Director of the GLCC, Stephen Burnnet, and fellow directors from both Canadian and U.S. ports to sell the Great Lakes as a new and exciting destination for cruise lines always looking ahead to develop new itineraries.

The weeklong event culiminated with a reception and dinner at Miami Beach's Delano Hotel, hosted by the GLCC and sponsored by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, that attracted 12 vessel owners and tour operators. This dinner allowed us to build new relationships with qualified and interested vessel operators and gave us all time to sell the lakes in a informal and relaxed setting. We're looking forward to following up with these interested parties throughout the coming year.

Thunder Bay was also profiled as an up and coming destination in the Seatrade edition of Cruise North America magazine and a picture of our new Pool 6 cruise ship dock was featured (with your's truly kayaking adjacent to it). This exposures helps increase our profile and ensure we remain part of the group leading the charge to bring cruising to the Great Lakes.

For Tourism Thunder Bay, our involvement in the GLCC is a long term strategic investment to attract an affluent niche experience seeking market. With two vessels, including Travel Dynamic's MV Clelia II ( scheduling 12 stops in the city in 2009, the direct and induced economic impact of these vessels will be in excess of $523 000. Working to bring the vessels here and keeping the operators satisfied takes a lot of effort and over 40 local businesses, many small operations, benefit economically. In fact, despite the vessels only being in port a total of 12 days, the financial impact spread across the tour operators, visitor attractions and vessel support services will create almost 2 full year equivilants of employment. While that doesn't seem like a lot, every job counts.

An increased presence at industry venues like Seatrade serve other important functions that align with our tourism strategy. Focusing on industry forums rather than consumer shows allows us to work on partnerships that could bring hundreds, if not thousands of visitors into the city through one or several group operators whereas through consumer shows, where thousands of people come through the door and great efforts are made to bring visitors to the community two or three at a time.

Placing greater focus on the experience seeker is a key change in our marketing strategy, and increases the likelyhood of success as well. Seventy five percent of travellers choose a destination based on whole or in part on the experience they are looking for and not the destination. Building itineraries and services to attract even a small share of the multi billion dollar cruising market provides greater opportunities to connect with potential new visitors and raise the profile of Thunder Bay across a wider global audience. Cruise shipping has a sexiness to it and being a port of call only elevates our community's reputation as a modern progressive city and must see destination.

I believe Lake Superior is as exotic as the Galapagos Islands for the right cruise operator and believe Thunder Bay has the strategic advantages and assets to be positoned as a cruise terminal for the smaller expedition class of cruise ships. The vastness of the lake, a variety of ports and shore activities around it, and unique selling propositions such as the Lake Superior National Marine Conservation area help define the product. The city's port and airport infrastructure give us great airlift and vessel servicing capabilities, making for an ideal opportunity to develop new economic opportunities for the community and region.

Its not a quick win and with cruise lines looking 3-6 years out for new vessel deployment opportunities, the work we do now will take time to materialize. However as I like to say, "There are two good times to plant a tree. 20 years ago and today."

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