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Manitoulin Capitalizes on Trend to Homeland Cruising
by Margo Little

The port of Little Current on Manitoulin Island is benefitting from a renaissance in Great Lakes cruising. To cater to the growing demand for marine and onshore adventures, the town is planning a multi-million improvement project.

According to travel industry insiders, many Americans are turning to "homeland cruising" as an alternative to travelling to unstable ports elsewhere in the world. Promoters of the cruise ship industry in Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) believe this trend will have a significant impact on the local economy.

Wayne Whymark, president of the NEMI community development corporation says, "As more visitors come to Little Current and the Northshore, word will spread about the world class natural attractions our area has to offer."

As an expression of its confidence in the booming cruise ship industry, NEMI has embarked on an $11 million marina upgrade project. The town has set aside $1.7 million in reserve for the waterfront re-development. Part of the long term plan includes a multi-use cruise ship pier budgeted at $800,000.

"This initiative touches all of Manitoulin Island," according to Bruce O'Hare, operator of Lakeshore Excursions. "The 2004 season will see a total of 20 separate visits to Little Current, making this port one of the most popular destinations on the entire Great Lakes. The visits represent in excess of 3,000 passengers."

O'Hare, a tour guide for a variety of Island attractions, says most of the ships arrive in September and October. Since the fall traditionally sees a downturn in tourism, the influx of American and European visitors is a definite boost for local merchants.

Analysts estimate that a typical passenger spends about $80 (U.S) at each destination point. "These are customers we would never get if they didn't come by cruise ship," O'Hare said. "They sample the area and if they like it, they come back."

Little Current is a member of the Great Lakes Cruise Coalition, an international organization which encourages tour operators to include Great Lakes ports on their itineraries. "The future growth of cruising on the Great Lakes looks good," said Stephen Burnett, GLCC executive director.

This year the newly launched 106 passenger Orion will make a maiden voyage to Manitoulin. In addition, the 400 passenger mv Columbus, the 90 passenger Le Levant and the 100 passenger Nantucket Clipper will return to NEMI.

To see the full schedule log on to www.lakeshorex.com

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