Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Building on the Potential of Lake Superior Boating

Lake Superior has some of the most impressive shoreline of any lake in the world and is, undoubtedly, a dream destination for many boaters. The Lake's vast size and near absence of infrastructure on the Canadian side are both draws and challenges.

During the 2009 boating season, some 39 US vessels and 8 Canadian private vessels called upon the Marina, staying a combined 151 days in the city. The average length of U.S boat was 36.7 feet while the average size of visiting Canadian vessels was 30 feet. The vast majority of visiting U.S. vessels were from Minnesota (22), with a half dozen or so from both Michigan and Wisconsin. The vessels recorded are those that entered the marina by water rather than arrived by trailer and those visits number in the dozens although no accurate tracking of them has been undertaken.

So why are we not attracting more boaters? There are over 800 000 vessels registered in Minnesota and 600 000 in Wisconsin. There are hundreds of thousands more registered in Michigan and Illinois. While many of these registrations are small trailer type fishing boats, there are tens of thousands of vessels in excess of 30 feet that are docked at hundreds of Marinas around the basin. The answer is that we collectively have not done as much as we can as a region to reach this large niche market. Reaching them is easy. Most belong to yacht or boating clubs and marinas, many communicate in on line boating communities and many attend boating consumer shows in major centers.

The key is to work together as a Lake Superior community and recognize that our individual cities are not the destination but rather the entire lake is. To do this successfully, we have to think of lake experiences and the consumer motivators that link to them. Next, we have to discard the geo-political boundaries that so often limit our marketing programs. Travellers care less about a destination, than on the experiences that exist there. When we limit ourselves to Ontario, Or Minnesota or the North of Superior political boundaries only, we don't tell the whole story to potential new visitors about the rich experiences here that transcend borders.

Tourism Thunder Bay is partnering with the Townships of Red Rock and Nipigon to increase awareness of our part of the lake with a presence at the 2010 Minneapolis Boat Show. All three of our communities are reinventing our economies and with that, enhanced waterfronts play prominent roles to provide infrastructure and visitor attractions to attract vessels and keep them in the area longer. While we have been a part of the North of Superior Marina Marketing Association over the past few years. the association is currently not as active as in the past and we're stepping up with regional partners to help promote the experiences that exist. In the long term, we'd like to see this partnership grow to include other Lake Superior communities, in both countries.

The need exists for a larger, pan Superior strategy to market boating on the big lake to the tens of thousands of big boats around the Great Lakes and as far as the Florida Keys that are seeking new freshwater cruising experiences close to home. Tourism Thunder Bay, through our membership in the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, is also a member of the U.S. Super yacht Association, a gathering of vessel owners and managers of private vessels 80 feet to 200 feet in length. For those skeptical as to the potential to attract these vessels here, opportunities exist and with a long term vision and a comprehensive marketing and product development strategy to accommodate the needs of boat owners and charterers, it can and will grow. In fact, this past summer, the 115 Motor Yacht "Paradigm", called upon the Port and is only one example of what we can attract in the future.

Building upon our potential takes time but as I like to say, there are two good times to plant a tree - 20 years ago and today.

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