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Returning cruise ships will help spread the wealth, says tourism outfit

Superior Country plans for return of cruise ships to northwestern Ontario this summer

NIPIGON — Communities along the north shore of Lake Superior are set to welcome visitors from around the world once again.

Organized by the Superior Country tourism organization, seven visits from three cruise lines — Viking, Ponant, and Hapag-Lloyd — are expected to hit several locations along the north shore including Red Rock, Rossport, Terrace Bay, Battle Island and Slate Island Provincial Parks over the course of the year, bringing with them an influx of economic, cultural, and recreational opportunities.

This will be the second year Superior Country welcomes cruise ships to the north shore after five visits from Octantis (Viking) and Hanseatic Inspiration (Hapag-Lloyd) in 2023.

Le Champlain (Ponant) has been added to the list this year.

Dan Bevilacqua, executive director of Superior Country, spoke to Dougall Media about how the cruise industry is “building in importance” for tourism in Northern Ontario.

“It is extremely important but it’s still growing,” Bevilacqua said.

“Being able to really build off of the success that Tourism Thunder Bay has had in attracting cruise ships has been a huge asset for the communities along the north shore.”

Guided hikes, Indigenous interpretation, village tours, kayaking, big canoe tours, barbecue meals, and live entertainment are just some of the experiences that Superior Country has to offer cruise ship guests this season.

Bevilacqua said the team at Superior Country crafts itineraries to suit the interests of each cruise line.

For example, Bevilacqua said that Ponant is specifically interested in mainland experiences and access to local vendors, which means he and his team might be able to get local business owners set up at each marina to provide goods and services to cruise guests.

He added that mainland excursions have the greatest economic impact on the region and that he’s happy to see the “wealth spread around.”

“It’s different for each ship and their interests vary as well. There’s different markets on each ship — they each cater to different demographics,” Bevilacqua said.

“The details are still being ironed out. Some of the cruise ships operate very last minute so it’s kind of a challenge for us. Even last year, there was a point where it was a week before they visited and they wanted us to add different experiences... nothing is set in stone as of this very moment.”

Guests will be travelling from the United States, France, Germany, and more.

Superior Country is also planning a “familiarization tour” for key decision makers in early September, which will see participants from around four to six cruise lines spend six days touring communities along the north shore, Thunder Bay included.

The familiarization tour provides stakeholders with a chance to see how much northern communities have to offer cruise guests, as Superior Country aims to attract additional cruise ships to the area.

The cruises are part of Superior Country’s Lake Superior North Shore Tourism Project, which has been made possible thanks to support from FedNor, Parks Canada, Destination Northern Ontario, Superior North Community Futures Development Corporation, and the communities of Red Rock, Dorion, Nipigon, Schreiber, Terrace Bay, and Marathon.

With a positive outlook in the region, Bevilacqua said it’s crucial that they keep the momentum going when it comes to attracting more cruises.

“There’s only so many cruise ships in the world that can actually enter into the Great Lakes,” Bevilacqua said.

“Quite frankly, we need to go after additional cruise ships because once the ships that are already coming go through their customer base, they start changing up locations again. So we need to make sure that we always have some in line for future years.”

While Viking’s Polaris is set to visit in June, Ponant’s Le Champlain will grace the north shore in September followed by Hapag-Lloyd’s Hanseatic Inspiration in October.

“It kind of operates like a snowball. Once one comes, they all kind of copy each other in what they do and what their offers are so we need to continue that momentum,” Bevilacqua said.

— SNnewswatch