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Just The Facts - Study shows the Great Lakes cruising industry's impact
Sept, 2004
A recent study conducted by the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (GLCC) is presenting the economic impact of the passenger cruise industry in the Great Lakes region. After tallying impact, the numbers reach beyond the coalition's expectations, said executive director Stephen Burnett, who designed the study. The coalition is a nonprofit organization devoted to growing the overnight cruise industry on the Great Lakes; however, the five month study was designed to be unbiased and has withstood the scrutiny of an independent economist.

As soon as cruise ships and the companies that book passengers published their 2004 materials, the coalition began its work. "We analyzed every shred of the industry's promotional material," Burnett said, noting that the group targeted those vessels with Great Lakes and upper St. Lawrence cruise offerings in 2004.

The five-month study, which looks at the industry's impact on tourism and marine operations, is the first exhaustive look at economic activity of the Great Lakes cruise industry. The outcome shows the industry generating $36.8 million in the U.S. and the equivalent of $49.7 million in Canada. The figures represent nine vessels making 82 departures from U.S. and Canadian ports during the 2004 season.

"The study was done for people like ourselves who are trying to attract ships into the Great Lakes," said Tom Conlin, founder of Great Lakes Cruise Co., which books passengers on ships operating in the Great Lakes. "The (ship) owners need to know these kinds of statistics to help in their decision-making to commit a ship to three or four months."

"In the past, the challenge has been moving past the marketing process and saying to the ownership, operators and tour operators that (cruising) represents a solid business venture," Burnett said, for both the tourism and marine-based segments of the industry. For credibility's sake, only first-generation, or direct, spending is included in the study's findings. Burnett said the coalition knows the multiplier effect would show a greater economic impact; however, that impact would have to have
been estimated.

Building a viable industry. "The study is a great piece of work," said Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority Deputy Director Steve Olinek. "It is important because by quantifying today's volumes, it shows there's a pulse and we soon may have a viable industry once again. It behooves all of us to build this trade. It has great spill-over value."

Olinek said cruising adds an element of public relations to the Great Lakes, which have primarily been used in recent decades to transport goods or provide recreational opportunities. Passenger cruises provide positive exposure to the Great Lakes, its communities and the businesses that rely on the water to bring in business.

The Detroit Port Authority is investing $11.25 million in a new passenger terminal in hopes of bringing cruise ships to its port. The investment represents the kind of diversification Olinek said is necessary today.

"We're anxious to take advantage of what's out there for our ports, be it on the freighter side or the passenger side," Olinek said. The 30,000- to 35,000-square-foot terminal is slated to be completed in the summer of 2005. It will be equipped to accommodate vessels of all types, including cruise ships.

While the Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority and several other ports are taking steps to become part of the overnight cruise industry, Little Current has long been welcoming cruise ships. The port, located on the northeastern tip of Manitoulin Island, Ontario, has rediscovered the industry in recent years. For four days of the 2004 season, the port was double-booked with cruise ships.

"We will be reaching capacity soon," said Bruce O'Hare, president of Lake Excursions and Little Current's GLCC representative.

Some are referring to the Great Lakes as the last
un-cruised destination in the world.

Last un-cruised destination. The C. Columbus first visited Little Current in 1997. Since then, Lake Excursions has been overseeing the details behind each ship's visit, such as welcoming passengers and scheduling land-based activities.

O'Hare said port representatives have been repeatedly asked for the kind of information that is now available. He plans to use the study as "ammunition" in pursuing government funding.

"We're not reinventing the wheel here," O'Hare said. "This whole process of what the cruise industry means to the economy has been done in Miami and other destinations like us. Now we have this information in a Great Lakes context."

The Great Lakes offer cruises on smaller ships, built to traverse the locks system. Fewer passengers fill the staterooms and events are designed to be more intimate. Some are referring to the Great Lakes as the last un-cruised destination in the world, Burnett said, paralleling it to Alaska in the 1960s.

The Great Lakes aren't foreign to cruise ships. There were a number of ships frequenting the lakes by the 1920s; however, recreational touring dwindled about 50 years ago.

When Conlin noted construction of the C. Columbus, which was designed specifically to travel the Great Lakes and its locks, he founded Great Lakes Cruise Co. His organization books passengers to all the cruise ships operating in the Great Lakes. He sees great potential for industry growth based on the Great Lakes/Seaway's 30- 35 ports that are prepared for ships to come in, depending on their size. If they can't pull up to a pier, the ships anchor and passengers are brought to shore in tenders.

"We've seen the ships, we know the history and we're very pleased to see that it's back," Conlin said. "We're anxious to use hard data to make it as attractive as possible for cruise ships to come here."

Ships offering Great Lakes cruises 2004 9
Departures 82

2004 - U.S. $ in millions
Total value of Great Lakes cruising $36.8
Total cruise-land packages $1.9
Sightseeing revenue $2.1
Gift purchases $0.7
Marine services & supplies $4.0

2004 - Canada $C in millions
Total value of Great Lakes cruising $49.7
Total cruise-land packages $2.6
Sightseeing revenue $2.8
Gift purchases $1.0
Marine services & supplies $5.4

Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Members
2004 - Canada
  • City of Sault Ste. Marie, Economic Development & Tourism
  • City of Toronto, Tourism Division
  • Ontario Ministry of Northern Development & Mines (Advisory)
  • Port of Toronto
  • St. Lawrence Seaway Management Authority (Advisory)
  • Town of Goderich
  • Town Little Current
  • Town of Northeastern Manitoulin & the Islands
  • Navitrans
2004 - U.S.
  • Central Marine Logistics, Inc.
  • Conlin Travel
  • Detroit/Wayne County Port Authority
  • Duluth Convention & Visitors Bureau
  • Erie-Western PA Port Authority
  • Pennsylvania Ports
  • Port Cleveland
  • Port Huron Seaway Terminal
  • Duluth Seaway Port Authority
  • Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. (Advisory)
  • Travel Michigan

Janenne Irene Pung

Used with permission. 2004 Harbor House Publishers, Inc., Boyne City, Michigan

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