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Trends, Ecotourism, and Economic Impacts

We sat down with Stephen Burnett, Executive Director for the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (GLCC), to learn about this emerging North American cruising destination. See below for Stephen’s take on current trends including economic impact, overtourism and why attending Seatrade is beneficial to ports and destinations.

As Executive Director for the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, can you tell us a bit about the history and mission of the organization?

The GLCC has been active for just over 20 years with the same continual focus, which is returning high quality cruising to the Great Lakes. We are a business-to-business organization and rarely communicate with consumers. Instead, we speak directly to cruise lines, informing them of the economic value of the Great Lakes and offer ourselves as a resource.

Why do you think there has been a recent surge in demand for Great Lakes cruising?

The GLCC has been sharing the same consistent message for over 20 years, promoting the Great Lakes region. The region provides a great economic delivery for cruise lines. Why? First, it is the last un-cruised region of the world and for cruise lines looking for ‘new’ itineraries, the Great Lakes can provide this. Second, it is a small ship destination due to the size of the locks which in turn reduces inventory. So, instead of large cruise ships, you have smaller, boutique cruise ships that offer a more exclusive and intimate experience. Less ships and increased demand make for an excellent yield.

Lastly, with so much unrest in the world, and overtourism/sustainability becoming more widely discussed, demand for safe, interesting and refreshing destinations for cruises is growing.

What are your favorite port destinations within the Great Lakes?

The Great Lakes have so many exciting and surprising ports it is impossible to name a favorite. However, I can name few ports in particular that have tremendous potential, but that don’t currently have ships docking, Rossport and Terrance Bay, both located in Ontario on Lake Superior. Both destinations have hardly been cruised and remain authentic lake towns with incredible nature-based attractions.

The Great Lakes Cruising Coalition attended the Seatrade Cruise Global event in Miami this past year, what takeaways did you come away with? 

In attending the Seatrade Cruise Global conference there is so much information to take in. This past year, we saw a huge interest in the Great Lakes, specifically in the geography of cruising on these bodies of water. How does one actually cruise all five lakes? The Great Lakes have a very intricate lock system as I mentioned, and unique geography – where you can visit two countries, five states and two Canadian provinces. I was a mariner in a past life, so I am able to speak to a lot of the technical aspects, such as distance, time, speed, etc.

Why is it valuable for destinations/coalitions, such as Great Lakes Cruising Coalition, to participate in Seatrade?

We have been attending the Seatrade Cruise Global conference for 20 years and have enjoyed seeing it evolve and grow to meet the everchanging needs of their customers. As the leading B-to-B cruise conference, there is no better venue for us to continue promoting our core message to our audience.  For smaller, up and coming destinations, such as the Great Lakes, it is a great chance to share the interesting opportunities and experiences available. For example, the Great Lakes region has many renaissance cities accessible to both cruise experiences (urban vs. wilderness) – no other destination can offer this. At Seatrade, we have the opportunity to explain this directly to the client base.  

What cruise trends did you find most interesting at Seatrade for 2019? Any predictors for 2020? 

Most interesting to me was the robust building program for small ships. At Seatrade, you have not only the cruise lines and destinations in attendance, but the technology and builders that bring these ships to life.

As for 2020, I expect to see a migration from large to small ship cruising. There is a growing segment that wants to travel with a smaller number of guests onboard. Why? They want to meet and get to know the other guests onboard. They want to see and experience lesser known destinations; the kind that only small ships can access. Guests want the ease of small ships. For example, being able to disembark/embark in 25 minutes.

Sustainability was a theme for Seatrade Cruise Global 2019, what is the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition doing to promote sustainability?

Sustainability is an important area of focus for the GLCC, and for the smaller communities we represent, a signature challenge. Many of these smaller port communities must make significant investments into infrastructure to support cruise ships. As such, it must be an acceptable ROI, looking at how they sustain over time to continue to grow the relationship.

The GLCC has positioned our focus on the economic development aspect versus pure cruising.  Therefore, we want to encourage sustainable practices that will support the region economically while also driving tourism in a safe and sustainable way. For example, we are working with many local farming communities that produce signature regional foods, so that we can educate cruise lines on what is locally available and how to purchase it. We are doing the same with the Great Lakes fishing and local micro-breweries and wineries.