Friday, March 16, 2012

Efforts to Build the Great Lakes Cruise Shiipping Industry Continue

The cruise shipping industry is a global tourism powerhouse valued in the billions of dollars and attracting tens of millions of avid cruise consumers annually. Although the industry remains dominated by the big liners focused on the Caribbean or the Mediterranean, a niche segment is growing in the small ship market. While the large vessels and standard island itineraries are great, a growing segment of the cruise consumer is seeking something more intimate, more educational and more experiential.

This past march marked the fifth consecutive year Tourism Thunder Bay has been present at SeaTrade's Cruise Shipping Miami as part of the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition. This nineteen member bi national organization is focused on the development of the Great Lakes as a vibrant cruise shipping destination, catering to the speciality cruise markets.

Miami is undeniably the home port of the world's industry with most cruise operators, ship owners and industry influencers having their head or branch operations. The annual event, held this past week, attracts hundreds of vessel suppliers and destinations and attracts thousands of cruise line executives, deployment directors, tour operators and retail travel representatives. This gathering of the globe's key cruise influencers makes it the one single marketing.

The growth of discovery and expedition cruising globally is largely focused on areas such as Central and South America, the far east, Australia, Galapagos, Antarctica, New Zealand and the rivers of Europe. There is no reason that the Great Lakes, with its mix of exceptional natural environment and rich cultural and industrial heritage, can be a long term destination right up there with some of the planets other exotic regions.

The history of passenger ship travel on the great lakes goes back to the eighteenth century and ended in the mid sixties with the improvements to the highway and air infrastructure to move people and goods more quickly and efficiently. It was not until the mid 1990's that passenger travel returned to the lakes with the likes of of the C. Columbus and later, Le Levant, ACCL (now Blount Small Ship Cruises) and Travel Dynamics. The strength of the Great Lakes includes fresh water, a cultural identity

Since 1997, the C Columbus has visited Thunder Bay twenty six times, Travel Dynamics twenty two times and a handful of visits from Ponnant Cruises' Le Levant. While this year appears quiet for the commercial ships visiting our terminal, we continue to work with industry and communities to build itineraries that can appeal to their clientele. There are two essential elements to developing cruise shipping destinations. The first is having shore experiences that consumers are seeking and the second is the establishment of an economically and environmentally climate for the operators. Cruise ships are expensive expensive to operate and lines are very mindful of the plethora of costs associated with seaway fees, the mandated use of low sulphur bunker fuels, shore excursion rates, food supplies, wharfage charges, customs and immigration fees, etc, etc.

This past year, we focused on meeting with the small ship owners, charterers and travel trade associated with the expedition industry. We also had a chance to meet representatives from most of the world's shipyards to find out what small ships are on the build sheets so we can plan our efforts into the future to get on the radar screen of their itinerary and deployment planners. It was also a chance to meet with the cruise media and sell them on the Great Lakes to build consumer and industry buzz and generate more leads and hopefully, more demand from ship owners to add capacity.

Cruise shipping generates approximately 1% of our annual tourism receipts for the region and while that sounds paltry to be putting efforts into this, our dedicated resource budget to the cruising is about 1% of our overall annual budget. When leveraged with the nineteen other cities and ports, Federal and Provincial contributions and RTO funds, it provides a solid base to promote the entire region. Considering that expedition and discovery cruising is a high yield, high value attraction, it raises the profile of our region and provides unique media opportunities.

More and more tourism industry officials believe that the great lakes has the potential to be the planet's next big discovery and expedition cruising territory. It will take an ongoing collective effort and resources from great lakes partners on both sides of the border and business friendly shipping policies to make that a reality

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


There is no doubt that the city's mining related economy is on the upswing in a big way. With the community being a base for gold, palladium and diamond mines, and extensive exploration efforts including the much hyped "Ring of Fire", the community is seeing the economic benefits of the supply chain associated with this industry in a big way...and its only going to grow in the next twenty years.

The city has successfully re focused our brand position as one of Canada's Best Outdoor Cities and on the surface, many would draw the conclusion that the very experiences we promote are in conflict with the resource extraction reputation of the mining industry. They can and do co-exist and we have to approach our overall economic future in a balanced multi disciplinary approach. There's room for everyone to play and good land use planning permits that focuses on highest and best sustainable use of natural resources in a given geographic region can permit that co-existance to flourish.

The tourism industry benefits from this sector. We're seeing the positive impacts on both the hotel and airport performance. But how about the other tourism related businesses in the city. We're seeing a wide range of professionals from around the planet arriving in the city to work or stage their trip into the region and they are no different than the leisure markets that are often considered the only tourism market.

These professionals are often here for days or even weeks at a time. They rent cars and truck, utilize air services, eat and will take in local attractions while here. They do have leisure time to explore. A number of years ago, I worked to mediate a conflict between an exploration firm and a remote tourism operator north of the city. What started as a conflict of land use values turned into a unique partnership whereby the exploration company became guests of the lodge but also offered to provide interpretation of their drilling program to some of the outfitters clients. It turns out that gold exploration in the heart of the Candian shield and boreal forest is something that is interesting to some people.

The city is primed to host regional, national and even international mining related conferences, trade shows and meetings. Mining is a major segment of our meeting and convention strategy. Look at the annual Northwestern Ontario Mining Symposium held here every year, how it continues to grow and attract delegates, not only from our region but from across North America.

The other night, I was returning from Toronto and got to chatting with a seat mate from Salt Lake City travelling to the region on mining related business. He was interested in our geography, activities, winter and cost of living. While on the ground, he was going to rent a vehicle, stay overnight and eat at local establishments. He was inquiring about skiing and dog sledding, too. We've heard from industry partners that groups of mining executives going out on fishing or sailing charters, exploring the art gallery or taking a group kayak tour of the waterfront. These are the traditional visitor experiences - the leisure market oriented ones - that everyone thinks about. The bottom line is that the thousands of mining related professionals arriving in the city also enjoy the traditional tourism attractions making it a valued market segment of our tourism economy.

Here is where we in the tourism marketing role in partnership with our front line partners in the taxi, hotel and restaurant industry can play a role in maximizing the visitor experience. Its about recommending the great restaurants, knowing the major attractions and hidden gems and selling them on what makes Thunder Bay great. Brag about all the NHL stars we grow, being on the world's largest freshwater lake, home to the world's largest fur trade post or one of Canada's top natural wonders. Share with them that we have some of Canada's most affordable housing, long summer days and access to outdoor experiences minutes from downtown.

Remember, many of our mining industry visitors are looking to the city to establish branch operations, plan extended work stays or even relocate themselves and their families. A well informed tourism industry can play a role in influencing positive visitor impressions and positive economic impacts.