Leelanau County’s ship is coming in. In a presentation at the Discovery Center Collaborative in Elmwood Twp. Tuesday, Traverse City Cruise Ship Consortium Chair Mike Wills said the Discovery Center Pier is now open for docking cruise ships up to 250 feet in length. Ships up to 450′ (the largest that can get into the Great Lakes through the St Laurence Seaway) will anchor out and tender in. Wills said the pier is already expecting at least two cruise lines to take advantage of this by next summer, which he revealed in comments after the meeting to be Hapag-Lloyd Cruises and Ponant, unofficially. “We see that Traverse City is on the itinerary for a couple of ships right now, so they’re promoting it … They’re selling tickets already,” Wills said. “They have to come through a certified port, and we’re the only one … They just haven’t talked to us (yet).” The Discovery Center is working with the Great Lakes Cruising Coalition (GLCC), a business-to-business organization that has already begun the process of connecting cruise lines to the Discovery Center Pier. “The number of inquiries (from cruise lines) that we got as soon as we announced was amazing,” Wills said during the presentation, adding this is the beginning of a process that
usually takes two years before a port will see action by a good number of cruise ships. “And from talking to the admiral of the Maritime Academy, he’s been hounded to the point that he’s aggravated — it’s so many inquiries.
“They’re aware of Traverse City, believe me,” he added of the cruise lines. “They want to be in Traverse City.”
Additionally, Wills said the passengers who step off these cruise ships will usually be looking for activities within a 45-minute drive, which in this case is expected to include Leelanau County.
In comments after the meeting, Wills said cruise-ship passengers will have the greatest interest in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, Leland’s Fishtown, winery tours and the Grand Traverse Lighthouse in Leelanau Township, based on discussions he’s had.
“They want to get immersed in the local culture,” Wills said. “They want to find out what this place is all about. And a lot of times, that’s just a one-day, maybe 12 hours of immersion. But if they like what they see, they may come back here and live here. They may come back here and spend more time.”
GLCC Executive Director Stephen Burnett was the primary speaker during Tuesday’s presentation.
Burnett said the Great Lakes are “the last uncruised region of the world,” adding everywhere else has been explored.
“What we have is extraordinary,” Burnett said of the Great Lakes region. “I have the luxury of traveling around the Great Lakes all the time — 20-odd years of this. And I’m still being surprised by how rich and how interesting our Great Lakes are. It’s the content. It’s the people. It’s what you find in the communities.”
He said current cruises on the Great Lakes frequently make stops in Chicago, Milwaukee and Mackinac Island, adding Traverse City is well placed between the latter two cities.
“The challenge your team has here, the Traverse City team, is getting into the heads of the cruise planners, persuading them to alter an existing itinerary,” Burnett said. “What you have to do is give them a great reason to add another stop to that cruise… give them a superb reason to include Traverse City.”
He said Traverse City and Leelanau County have fantastic assets to do exactly that.
“Geographically, this is drop dead beautiful,” Burnett said. “You have an extraordinary waterfront. Very few places I know defended their waterfront … To have a waterfront with no development on it is a gift.”
He added the abundance of independent stores and tourism assets will also attract cruise lines to the area.
“You have everything that it takes,” Burnett added, said.
Well in advance of a cruise ship coming, Wills said cruise lines will send out exploratory cruises to explore the community and get an idea of the area’s attractions and activities for visitors.
“Our job is to make that list as big as we can,” Wills said, adding cruise planners will be put in touch with TC Tourism.
In comments after the meeting, Wills said the Traverse City Cruise Ship Consortium is in the process of putting together a document with website links and contact information of TC Tourism, local chambers of commerce and various area attractions.
Wills added tourists from small cruise ships may not have a huge impact on the local economy, but it’s a cool thing for the community.
“What I’ve seen when that ship comes down the bay is just a ton of excitement from everybody— visitors, locals alike,” Wills said. “It’s just like, ‘Wow, look at that! They’re here in our
bay! Let’s go look!’ And so zoom! They all go over to the Maritime Academy and try to get pictures and get up close.
“So the impact is pretty small — 300 people that get dispersed on buses throughout a community,” he added. “It’s not like we’re going to get overwhelmed, but the wow factor is really cool.”
Source: Cruise ships to dock in Elmwood