Close to home: Great Lakes cruises bring visitors to region

In late summer 2018, then Gov. Rick Snyder helped launched “Cruise the Great Lakes,” an international partnership of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Governors & Premiers and participating U.S. states, Canadian provinces, cruise lines, ports and travel and tourism entities across the region, to bring more cruise passengers to the Great Lakes.

Since then David Lorenz, Travel Michigan vice president and chair of Cruise the Great Lakes, has been traveling across the region touting the ports of call and cruise lines that are investing in cruise ship travel. In 2018, eight ships operated in the region, including ships from Victory Cruise Lines, Blount Small Ship Adventures and Pearl Seas Cruises. Two additional lines plan to enter the region by 2020.

With the 2019 season winding down, Corp! spoke to Lorenz about the initiative.

Corp!: Tell us more about cruising here.
David Lorenz: Some of the ships that have been here for awhile are packaging up new excursions and additional ports of call visits in the region. They are finding new opportunities to make the general traveler more aware of what we have in the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway area.

The ship lines we talk about are the ones that get completely into the Great Lakes and there are other ships that are in the Seaway. Those big 2,000-passenger ships will never get into lakes because they can’t fit through the Seaway. The smaller ships in the Great Lakes, with between 200 and 300 passengers, offer a more intimate fresh water experience.

The Blount small ships can operate with around 80 people; the ultimate of intimate cruising.

Great Lakes cruises offer more land experience time, since there’s basically a smaller amount of water to cover. Many of the ships offer land excursions as part of their price and the value is really good.

Corp!: Tell us about the numbers you are seeing.
DL: In 2018 alone, our waterways saw nearly 100,000 port visits by passengers. We aim to increase those numbers which, in turn, increases the amount of economic impact. We don’t have numbers yet for 2019. What we do know is that the ships are offering more excursions and many of them are going later into the season. Some of them offer the wonderful fall color opportunities.

Corp!: Tell us about some of the ports of call.
DL: The region’s unique blend of urban and rural ports of call continue to be a draw for cruise passengers, with Toronto being one of the largest and busiest of the ports. In 2018, 17 passenger cruise ships carrying approximately 6,000 passengers visited PortsToronto’s Cruise Ship Terminal.

In Michigan, we probably have to start with Mackinac Island, because it’s usually considered by passengers as the most popular destination.

Detroit and Cleveland also offer a really great experience and people are often absolutely shocked at the experience they have. In Cleveland, the ships go right to the core entertainment area, where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and art museum are located.

The port of Detroit is right next to the RenCen, home to GM, and travelers can walk along the riverfront and take excursions that may include three large casinos, the Detroit Institute of Arts and one of the more popular attractions, The Henry Ford.

On the other side of the state, Muskegon is one of the more popular ports. Some people may go to Holland from there and experience the Dutch culture. Other people will stay in Muskegon and go to the lumber baron homes, such as the Hackley House.

Corp!: How do you market this?
DL: This last year, our efforts were solely based on developing the media tools we will put into the market this season. Our immediate focus is on marketing to potential consumers in North America. We’ve seen regional cruising has been growing rapidly, despite the lack of a consistent regional brand or marketing program specifically directed at cruise passengers, so we believe our strategy for Cruise the Great Lakes will unify the core messaging and position the region for sustained cruising growth for years to come.

Corp!: What do you foresee for 2020?
DL: I think we will start to see the results of passengers who will want to come back here and they will tell their friends and then their friends will come here. When they realize what we have to experience, they may want to spend a whole week in a place like Alpena, Duluth or Milwaukee.

When it comes to the ships themselves, I believe they’re going to be encouraged to provide a number of itineraries, maybe different ones, so we may have more ports engaging with ships and their guests.

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