Saturday, July 4, 2009

Thunder Bay Heralds a new era of Cruise Shipping

At 7:30 AM on Friday July 3rd, the M.V. Clelia II, slipped past the main light in Thunder Bay harbour and proceeded to the Pool 6 cruise ship dock to berth for the next 9 hours. With her horns blasting through the calm sunny morning, she awakened Thunder Bay with her arrival and awakened a new era in cruise shipping for the community. Judging by the 500 or so residents who came to the dock to watch her throughout the day, her wake up call was a welcome sound.

The arrival of the Clelia II marks a fantastic new relationship with New York based Travel Dynamics, ( the vessel's charterer. The vessel will be making 11 scheduled stops in the city over the next 2 1/2 months to allow passengers the opportunity to explore the community. While in the community, the vessel's guests will be touring Fort William Historical Park (, the Forest Research Station and have opportunities to rent bicycles dockside or tour the shopping districts by motor coach shuttle or on their own. The vessel is a stunning and luxurious boutique expedition cruising vessel and offers its 100 guests an incredibly high level of service. The itineraries give guests the chance to learn more about the communities they visit and that has provided us the opportunity to showcase our unique attributes, including the exciting realities of a city in economic transition.

Its also historic for Tourism Thunder Bay and the city in general. Its the first passenger vessel to dock at the 100 year old Pool 6 dock and makes the start of the sites transformation to major Great Lakes cruise shipping facility. This spring, Transport Canada mandated security and safety upgrades, concrete dock repairs, site grading, painting, leveling of topsoil and seeding took place to create a functional and practical staging are to accommodate the vessel to Transport Canada security standards and create a convenient location to service the vessels. The proximity of Tourism Thunder Bay's main administration center on the property has also given us the ability to create a comfortable area for the vessel's crews to sit, check emails and enjoy a coffee while ashore.
Because Tourism Thunder Bay manages the facility, it gives us the control and flexibility to attract new lines without having to juggle passenger traffic within the health and safety challenges posed by docking at industrial facilities. We can now respond quickly and with greater flexibility to meeting the needs of the industry and in attracting more vessels. While this new undertaking is a significant addition to the responsibilities of Tourism Thunder Bay, management of the facility through a division with a focused economic development and tourism focus will be essential to its long term success.

While the approximately 100 passengers who will visit the city on Clelia II this year may sound small compared to the 652 000 visitors the city receives annually, it is in fact a very important part of two growing segments in the tourism industry -expedition cruise shipping and group travel. The economic impact of the Clelia's visit to the City is estimated at over $521 000 this summer as the vessel touches more than 30 businesses and organizations from security, waste management and water supply companies to attractions, retail, motor coach operators, stevedores and vessel management firms. In fact, when one looks at the number of people involved in the welcoming of the vessel over 11 days, its the equivalent of almost two full time jobs annually.

Long term, however, the cruise shipping industry offers phenomenal potential for Thunder Bay to position itself as a major expedition cruising hub for the Great Lakes. Our airport infrastructure, the newly announced Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area and the abundance of stunning and unique natural environment and history of human settlement around the lake basin gives this the potential to become one of the world's next hot expedition cruise shipping markets. Eleven hundred visitors can become twenty five hundred and can become five thousand before long if we continue to make the necessary investment in our dock infrastructure. Becoming a hub for the cruise shipping industry means vessels start or end their itineraries here. This translates into hotel rooms for passengers flying in or out of the city, new airport and airline business, new opportunities for vessel servicing companies, grocers and others. This means an economic impact that expands almost four fold over the same vessel making day stops only. It also opens opportunities to smaller communities along the lake shore regionally as smaller vessels can dock or anchor close by and offer their guests unique experiences shore side as well.

However, getting us to July 3rd took the work of a phenomenal number of organizations, businesses and people across North America. They include Travel Dynamics, Navitrans, Stephen Burnett of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, William Hryb of Lakehead Shipping, Canadian Border Services, Transport Canada, Lake Superior Visits, Thunder Bay Tug Services, Thunder Bay Port Authority, Winning Streak Charters and Caribou Coach, Signs Now, Superior Pedicabs, Opportunity Thunder Bay and all of our local and international media partners who helped general public support for this fantastic development.

For me personally, this has been the culmination of almost 6 years of personal passion for the potential of Great Lakes Cruising. Seeing the vessel dock effortlessly on July 3rd was only the start of what will become a great addition to our city's waterfront.

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