Great Lakes cruise ship visits on Island new record in 2022, more next year

MANITOULIN ISLAND—The cruise ship industry in the Great Lakes has rebounded significantly after COVID-19, industry leaders tell The Expositor.

“This is a very exciting time for the cruise ship industry,” stated Stephen Burnett, of the Great Lakes Cruise Association (GLCA). “It has been a challenging, but wonderful year on the Great Lakes, and there has been a significant increase in the number of visitors and ships on the Great Lakes, with even more next year.”

“From COVID-19 two years ago and zero business to a very successful year. It was a great year,” echoed Bruce O’Hare of Little Current, president of Lakeshore Excursions. “It probably increased by about 40 percent and we had many new ships coming into Little Current and the Great Lakes, and more expected in the future.” 

“It’s been a good year, but a difficult year as well,” said Mr. Burnett. “In the past couple of years during COVID, many cruise ship lines had to reduce staff. Now they have had to ramp up. This is a complex industry, the cruise ships are like moving Marriott Hotels, where people have to plan to be on them 16-22 months ahead of their actual sailing time.”

“Worldwide some cruise lines have done very well and some have struggled,” said Mr. Burnett. “In many ways the cruise ship industry is one of the most resilient businesses there are. The industry had to be shut down during COVID, and companies lost revenues. But looking at it globally, it is astonishing how well the industry has done this year.” 

“It is a very dynamic time in the history of the cruise ship industry,” said Mr. Burnett. “We had eight or nine ships cruise the Great Lakes this year, next year there will probably be between 10-12, including a second Viking ship.”

The region ports of call include Little Current, Parry Sound, Sault Ste. Marie and they all reported increases in numbers of visitors. Killarney had its first passenger ship stop there in about 80 years with the Viking Octantis visiting this year. 

Mr. O’Hare pointed out passengers are looking for destinations to visit and the local partnership with Wiikwemkoong Tourism and the Ojibwe Cultural Foundation really pulls this all together on the Island as visitors receive an Indigenous experience, one they crave. 

Visitors also visit Kagawong for kayaking, Bridal Veil Falls, the Manitoulin Chocolate Factory and have the opportunity to hike the Cup and Saucer Trail and support conservancy. “It’s a Manitoulin Island initiative, not just a benefit for Little Current,” said Mr. O’Hare.

“I’ve been talking with five new cruise lines, with three more ships expected next summer,” said Mr. Burnett. He feels the number of boats sailing through the region could grow from nine to 18 in the coming years.

“The future of the cruise ship industry is very good and is only going to grow,” added Mr. O’Hare.