THUNDER BAY —Signs are pointing to further growth in the Great Lakes cruise ship industry and in the economic spinoffs to ports such as Thunder Bay.
"We're really excited by the growing interest in Thunder Bay,"' says city tourism manager Paul Pepe.
Representatives of five cruise ship operators visited the city last week as part of a familiarization tour.
Pepe says they spent three days here gathering information about the port's suitability for inclusion in their ships' itineraries.
"They're looking to bring their vessels into Lake Superior as well in future years," Pepe said in an interview Tuesday.
He made the comment while reflecting on the first half of the current cruise ship season, which has seen Thunder Bay visited three times by Viking Expeditions' Viking Octantis and twice by American Queen Voyages' Ocean Navigator.
A cruise ship hadn't docked in Thunder Bay since 2013.
The Community Economic Development Commission estimated last year that the industry could generate a local economic impact of over $20 million between 2022 and 2024, and support dozens of jobs.
Viking Octantis will make four more trips this year, bringing up to 378 passengers each time and taking on a new set for its return voyage.
Pepe says the complicated logistics that go with hosting cruise ships have been worked out through the first half of the season.
The City of Thunder Bay has already spent a significant sum improving the docking facility at the Pool 6 site, including upgrades to the dock, a new fendering system, replacement of bollards, electrical work, rubble removal, road realignment and landscaping.
Almost half the $2.5 million cost is covered by a grant from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation.
"Those investments made are allowing us to be a bit more competitive in terms of future business opportunities," Pepe said.
"Having those improvements done this year, and having the first turnaround vessel that we've ever had here with the VIking Octantis, has given everybody a good sense of what works logistically and what doesn't, and that will help influence, I think, future investments down there."
He added that everyone from the vessel operators to the pilots have commented that the dock is functional, secure and safe, and that its proximity to the downtown area is convenient.
The city's goal, Pepe said, is to see Thunder Bay continue to be a turnaround port because passengers on both the inbound and outbound voyages spend money at hotels, restaurants and other local businesses.
He said it will be important for the city to continue collaborating with other ports on the Great Lakes to market the region to cruise operators.
The next visit by the Viking Octantis is Friday, Aug. 5 at 6 p.m.
Earlier in the day, the ship will stop at Silver Islet.
It will depart Sunday, Aug. 7 at 5 a.m. and take a new set of passengers to Silver Islet before heading for Duluth and the south shore of Lake Superior en route to Milwaukee.