Sunday, March 20, 2011

Selling Great Lakes Cruise Shipping Potential to The Travel Trade At Cruise Shipping Miami

This past March 13-17, Tourism Thunder Bay once again has a visible presence at Seatrade's Cruise Shipping Miami Conference as part of our active involvement in the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, a twenty member bi-national partnership of US and Canadian Port Authorities, Tourism organizations and vessel management firms operating within the lake system.

Seatrade's Cruise Shipping Miami is thew world's largest annual gathering of cruise shipping industry executives, destinations and cruise shipping industry supply chain representatives, attracting over 8000 delegates and over 900 exhibitors selling everything from pre packaged foods to destinations, vessel furnishings and even entire vessels.

While the event is still largely dominated by the big six large cruise shipping giants, which represent big ship cruising and make up the bulk of the global industry, the last few years have given the small cruising market a foothold at the show, beginning in 2010 with educational segments dedicated to the expedition and discovery cruising segments, a small but growing niche that attracts more active avid cruisers who have tried large ships and want something smaller or simply want itineraries that are more authentic and personal.

Expedition or more appropriately "Exploration" and Discovery cruising is what the Great Lakes is all about. Seaway dimensions limiting vessels to 740 feet in length by 78 feet in beam effectively restrict the large ships from entering the locks above Montreal but a small but growing fleet of smaller intimate cruising vessels are plying the world's waterways, hungry for new cruising destinations.

Some interesting trends this year pointed to an overall growth projection across all cruising segments and several new builds and recent transactions of the existing discovery fleet, estimated at around 63 vessels, prove that the market has tremendous futurity. For the Great Lakes, we remain a relative hidden gem among more well known destinations globally. however, having a tremendous source market close at hand, air corridor connectivity, safe cruising waters and unique natural and developed attractions (such as the locks themselves) form the ingredients to create memorable and value enriched itineraries for ship owners and tour operators alike.

The exploration and discovery markets are traditional avid, upscale adventurers who want to learn about the areas they visit, to absorb authentic experiences, see something the masses do not and do so with an expectation of an incredibly high level of quality service. Many of the tour operators that cater to this segment are in the 50-250 passenger realm. Over the past thirteen years, we've seen visits by the Clelia II, a 100 passenger vessel, Ponnant Cruise's "Le Levant" and Hapag Lloyd's C.Columbus, which will be returning to the City later this summer for two stops.

Our coalition this year was represented by our Executive Director, representatives of the U.S. Seaway Authority, Toronto Port Authority and yours truly, providing a broad scope of information to prospective new ship operators by being able to accommodate their vessel logistics, inspections and itinerary queries. This year our cruising coalition saw Wawa and Red Rock join, ensuring that five of our twenty members are from the Lake Superior area alone, joining Duluth, Sault Ste Marie and Thunder Bay, a testament to the potential everyone around the lake sees in growing this segment.

As in past years, our mission was to promote the potential of the lakes to the cruise operators and vessel owners, learn best practices and source ideas for improving our own destination marketing and development opportunities. Our coalition's work culminated in our Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Dinner Reception, held at the famed Delano Hotel on South Beach where members of the Coalition met with the executives of several discovery lines and vessel mangers over supper to discuss cruise opportunities and entice them to consider the region as a profitable new destination to serve their loyal existing clientele and attract new markets.

While Cruise Shipping represents a little over one half of a percent of Thunder Bay's overall tourism receipts annually, its a strategic segment in that it is high profile and aligned with respected and renowned brands in cruising and unique and exotic visitor experiences. In 2010, ten vessel visits generated approximately $423 000 in local and regional economic impacts, including passenger, crew and vessel services and supplies. In Thunder Bay alone, over 36 companies were positively impacted by our cruise ship industry from attractions to retail galleries, transportation, security and vessel supply firms. We spend several thousand dollars annually in landscape upkeep to the terminal and our marketing and promotional budget allocated to cruise shipping is a little under $8000 annually, representing slightly less than 0.8% of our operating budget. The collaborative partnership nature of the organization and the need to promote the entire region to operators, rather than a single city, allow our modest annual investment to leverage significant support from other partners and orders of government.

At the Pool 6 Cruise Ship Terminal (I really hope to find a better name at some point) we've invested close to a quarter million dollars in transforming a former grain elevator dock and brown field into a safe, secure and aesthetically pleasing and security compliant passenger terminal. While much work still needs to be done over the coming years, we've adopted a pragmatic incremental approach to making investments in what is already a tremendous asset of an 800 foot log deep-water marine slip. We've painted, created a park like setting, planted flowers, flown flags and welcome banners, installed complimentary wi-fi, created a shore side crew lounge, provided crew transportation, and ensured a customer first approach to delivering exceptional customer service, making guests, crew and vessel operators alike feel welcome in the community.

The development of the future Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area, our significant air connectivity to source markets, our unique cultural composition and our own spectacular transformation of our waterfront are but several examples of the evolving assets on the lake system that have the potential attract vessels into the future and can very well boost the economic impact of the cruising market for our area and raise the profile and reputation of the community and region as a unique and exotic cruising destination like any where else on the planet. Quite simply, this is how we have to think about the assets we have and position ourselves to the market. I've often said that we have to be confident and bold. In fact, our entire tourism strategy speaks that language every day in our vision to become regarded as Canada's Best Outdoor City.

There are two good times to plant a tree. Twenty years ago and today. Taking a long term collaborative approach will generate greater interest in the lakes and grow a financially and environmentally sustainable cruise over time.

1 comment:

Andy said...

What has become also fascinating has become to listen to the masters and employees
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