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Spotlight: Are the Great Lakes the future of luxury cruising?

Cruising industry set to make a splash in Northern Ontario
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In Northern Ontario, there are select travel experiences that are the showpieces of our region. Angling on nearly untouched remote lakes for trophy fish, infinite trail systems for summer and winter sports, and snowfall that has snowmobilers migrating north annually are just a few.

But soon, the north could be adding a new signature experience to the long list of attractions - cruising.

The Great Lakes are one of the last un-cruised places in the world. And with a surface area spanning over half the size of the Baltic Sea, there is ample growth potential for the cruise industry on this freshwater resource.

“As an example of growth potential, the Ontario Lake Superior port of Red Rock is typical of a hitherto ‘un-cruised port’ that will be attractive to guests on expedition ships,” explains Stephen Burnett, Executive Director, Great Lakes Cruising Coalition & Cruise Ontario. “When combined [with] the Canadian and US Lake Superior ports, offer a rich two nation circle cruise route that will resonate with voyage planners in the cruise industry.”

Specifically, Lake Superior is an intriguing destination for cruise-goers. It’s remote, exotic, rich with history and is at the heart of fascinating local folklore. Superior lives up to its name with pearl-white sand beaches, unique rock formations, awe-inspiring shoreline cliffs, historical destinations and access to some of the most idyllic landscapes in the world.

Lake Superior has a depth of mystery which begs it to be discovered.

Cruising the Great Lakes: A brief history

Cruising the Great Lakes dates back over one hundred years. According to a report published by the University of Wisconsin for the National Centre for Freight and Infrastructure, Research and Education overnight cruising on the upper Great Lakes was highly popular from 1840 to 1940 with around thirty passenger ships in operation during this decade. The cruise industry saw a steep decline with the development and construction of highway infrastructure and eventually
commercial airline services.

A resurgence in the Great Lakes cruise industry has been attempted many times since the mid-twentieth century, however, it has been met with friction in the form of strict government regulations on waterways stymying any effective momentum.

Where we are today

Today, there is a renewed interest in Northern Ontario’s cruising industry. A 2018 situational assessment by Destination Northern Ontario (DNO) on Lake Superior tourism revealed there is an appetite for foreign investment in the Great Lakes by global cruising operators who are shifting toward smaller expedition cruises catering to adventurous travellers. Companies like French cruise ship operator, Ponant have announced the launch of new ships on northern waters. Ponant’s limited capacity yacht, Le Champlain is expected to arrive in Sault Ste. Marie in 2019 followed by the 138-metre expedition ship, Hanseatic Inspiration which is currently under construction in Norway. These will be among freshwater cruising regulars Pearl Mist and Victory 1.

“In 2018, between May and October, guests on Great Lakes cruise ships made over 1 million individual port visits in the Great Lakes” - Stephen Burnett, Executive Director, Great Lakes Cruising Coalition & Cruise Ontario

The growth of leisure cruising on the Great Lakes is big news for Northern Ontario tourism which generates over a half billion dollars in tax revenue annually. A projected record-breaking number of dockings over the next two years in communities like Sault Ste. Marie, who welcomed approximately 6000 cruise passengers in 2017, will benefit the northern economy and create more jobs in the region.

What needs to be done to move forward?

According to the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition laws on cabotage (the right to operate sea, air, or other transport services within a particular territory) and border security in both Canada and the United States are major impediments of the industry. These stumbling blocks need to be reviewed and addressed for leisure cruising on the Great Lakes to be successful.

Continued development of off-vessel tourism offerings to attract adventurous travellers is critical to the success of the Great Lakes cruising industry. Organizations like Destination Northern Ontario is leading this effort through their support of product development, spearheading investment attraction, providing training and development for tourism operators, marketing, and offering partnership initiatives all in the name of creating the highest quality experiences for visitors.

Will the cruising industry set sail and make a splash in Northern Ontario? It’s unclear right now. However, what is certain is efforts made to continue to champion landmarks in the north and encourage new tourism opportunities will result in stable, economic growth in our communities.

About Tourism Rocks!

Tourism Rocks! was launched by Destination Northern Ontario to champion growth in Northern Ontario’s tourism industry. The campaign highlights the importance of tourism in the region and creates awareness about exciting career opportunities in the tourism sector.




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