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Call us: Cruise ship operators invite Sarnia to make a pitch

Published on

Jack Poirier

The operator of the newest Great Lakes cruise ship has rolled out the red carpet to city officials to pitch him on making Sarnia a port of call.

Thomas Markwell, managing partner of Haimark Travel, said his team will be meeting in the next few weeks to discuss their 2017 planning session.

Haimark operates the M.S. Saint Laurent, a 286-foot, four-level vessel embarking on its maiden voyage this July from Montreal for a 10-day tour of the Great Lakes.

“I’ve been contacted by maybe two cities over two years for our fully-booked cruises,” he said.

A growing coalition of Sarnia business and political leaders continue to meet and discuss ways to attract cruise ships to Sarnia.

“If people are that interested in having us stop in their town, they need to get their local governments to contact our company,” Markwell said.

Markwell said larger cities like Toronto and Montreal are more proactive and provide good marketing structure and support.

When it comes to setting destinations and itineraries, there are a number of logistics to consider, Markwell said.

Most cruise passengers are 60-plus, so key attractions include historical and cultural amenities, quality museums, and food and shopping districts that offer unique experiences with a local theme, he said.

“People don’t want to shop at The Gap.”

Other important considerations include where the dock is located in relation to amenities, local infrastructure, airfares and flights, and having attractions people recognize.

The voyages are a minimum of nine nights.

“It’s important that the community gets behind these projects and provide a welcoming attitude,” Markwell said.

Tourism Sarnia-Lambton’s Marlene Wood said officials have reached out to some of the main cruise operators, adding, “It’s just a matter of finding the right fit.”

The City of Sarnia now controls the Sarnia Harbour, which will help the tourism body’s efforts, she said.

The fact that local business and government are starting to work together puts wind in the sail, she added.

“Nothing happens in the marketing of a destination without the collaboration of partnerships.”

The Great Lakes Cruise Company has 22 Great Lakes cruises planned of varying lengths this year.

Owner Chris Conlin said his company works with ship owners like Haimark to build packages for travellers.

“The typical customer is one that has cruised many times before. When they cruise they want some sort of a continuing education, enrichment activity.”

A community should showcase its historical significance on the Great Lakes, he said.

After a 40-year hiatus of Great Lake cruising, the market has exploded in recent years.

Conlin described the Sarnia-Port Huron area as a fabulous place for ships to start or stop.

“We’ve had departures out of Port Huron … I hope (this idea) continues to gain steam, so to speak.”

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