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

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