Ferry parent continues to search out ways of increasing ridership

OWEN SOUND—The Owen Sound Transportation Company is always looking at ways to increase its ridership on the Chi-Cheemaun, says OSTC President and CEO Susan Schrempf.

“Compared to 2013 at the same time (as of July 10) we are up in terms of vehicle numbers by 10 percent, but last year we lost 10 days at the start of the season,” stated Susan Schrempf, of the OSTC, in an interview with the Recorder last Friday. “If you compare our numbers this year against 2012 for the same number of operating days we are down 11 percent. We had one day where the ship was down and we lost 406 potential vehicles so we would still be down 2,000 vehicles over the same time period as 2012.”

“I understand from talking to other tourist operators the numbers are depressed universally,” said Ms. Schrempf. “They are attributing a lot of this due to the late spring.” As well, another big factor, “is the exorbitant fuel prices. People can’t afford to drive like they could in the past, and of course guess what we want people to do– drive to either Tobermory or South Baymouth to take the ferry to the other side.”

“We have been providing discounts for passengers for retail and accommodation businesses for people who use the ferry through the Destination Manitoulin program and it seems to be working well,” said Ms. Schrempf.

“We have also been doing as much promotion and advertising in areas like southern Ontario, the GTA and the Golden Horseshoe as we can,” continued Ms. Schrempf.

Ms. Schrempf explained, “on a trip by trip basis, for the 7 am out of Tobermory and the 10 pm sailing from South Baymouth, the numbers of users of these services are almost invisible. It seems 7 am is too early for people to drive up and ferry. In the early days of the ferry, people would come up the night before and stay at a hotel and couldn’t get the middle sailings because they were on a first come first served basis. But now they can reserve a spot on the middle sailings so customers aren’t worried about getting here that early in the morning to catch the Chi-Cheemaun in Tobermory. And hotel rooms are generally full in Tobermory and even if you can find a room customers don’t want to pay about $150 a night for a room and then another $40 to use the ferry service as well. So instead they are making reservations on the ferry at 11:20 am and not driving around.”

“Our board of directors are quite aware of the problems we are having this year, but what’s the solution?” asked Ms. Schrempf. She explained the OSTC has put in place a stargazing cruise for walk-on traffic for the month of August (starting in Tobermory at 8 pm and returning from South Baymouth at 10 pm (except for Wednesdays). She pointed out, “in the past we’ve been criticized for allowing for this, but these customers may come back in the future and it adds passengers to the ship.”

The OSTC is also going to be requesting the municipality of Tobermory change its current bylaws to allow for the ferry lot to be used for recreation vehicles, to allow people to park there overnight and take the first sailing over to South Baymouth in the morning. “With the dry camping, people could bring in their RVs and park them on the lot. They wouldn’t be connected to hydro or anything else, they would just be allowed to sleep in their RV’s on the lot. “This is a market that we have no access to right now, and there would need to be municipal bylaws changed, but we will be making an application to the municipality to allow for this.”

The OSTC is also hosting a sunset dinner cruise with celtic, folk and blues music. The band ‘Comas’ is performing on the ship Thursday, August 14. The Mackenzie Blues Band will perform on Friday, October 3. As well, on Tuesday Ms. Schrempf was able to confirm that Dr. Rhonda Paulsen and elder Shirley Williams will be on the ship Thursday, July 31 on the 3:40 pm crossing from Tobermory and be hosting a 30 minute reading and discussion of the book ‘Spirit of the Island’ on board the ship.

“We look at all avenues, all the time, to find markets to promote and help fill the ship,”said Ms. Schrempf.