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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

BOAT RENDEZVOUS ARE BIG BUSINESS

 We have attended a number of rendezvous on Georgian Bay in the last few years and others going back many years on Lake Simcoe. It seems like a simple enough thing to do to get a bunch of like minded boaters together but in fact there are many logistics related to safety, reservations, food and special events associated with a boat rendezvous. Boaters are also a very independent lot so sometimes it’s difficult to get them to stick to an agenda – like herding cats.

Some of the marina and boat brand manufacturer rendezvous are very large at upwards or over 200 boats. Large groups might be spread out two hours apart from the front to end boat as they travel mother goose style to the next destination. Safely anchoring/rafting that many boats in a harbour is quite a feat on it’s own. Same with docking large groups at marinas that get filled to capacity. Lots of coordination involved.

We attended the Parkbridge group of marinas last season and they did an excellent job – certainly one of the best organized I’ve seen and it was huge group of boats. Some marinas are set up better than others to mange this kind of onslaught on boats coming in at one time. If it’s a fuel and pump out stop things at the gas docks get very interesting.

I recently read that Nemi in the North Channel had undergone waterfront development so they can accept large boat rendezvous to their town. This included things like a waterfront trail, a new pavilion, increased parking, tennis court and other recreational opportunities, new signage lighting and landscaping, re-decking and improving the docks and upgrading the streetscape of the town. This was a very wise move on their part. It comes down to economics – spending to compound revenue.

Boaters drop a lot of money when they travel with a rendezvous. There’s fuel, pump outs, docking, food & beverage supplies, dinners out, marine repairs and shopping. I decided to check and see how much we spent at our one Killarney stop last year that was two day stay over. For our 52’ boat that grand total was $1992. including tax all in that we spent for a party of three. We’re still eating Hawberry sauces and I still wear my Herbert Fisheries T shirt. Great memories too! Point is, a few hundred boats traveling the Bay is big money pumped into local economies by any standard. I’m sure our group overall probably dropped $200k or more just in Killarney. Everybody along the way benefits and it spreads money deep into the economy where fuel companies, merchants, marinas and restaurants need it.

Now cruisers spend money in the same way – just not in big groups. The collective volume of individual cruisers dwarf rendezvous traffic. So why is Parks Canada making it so difficult and so expensive for boat tourists to come up the Trent to visit one of the worlds most spectacular cruising areas. I just doesn’t make sense. Boating in Ontario is a major positive economic force and the marine industry and boaters themselves need to do more to educate the Provincial and Federal governments and for that matter the general public as to the economic importance of the industry. More important ... the local Chambers of Commerce, merchants, marinas and restaurants in all the ports need to scream it out load and clear to the politicians that represent them in their riding.

Posted by at 1:08 PM
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Thursday, January 03, 2013

WILL OVERNIGHT CRUISE SHIPS PLY THE WATERS OF GEORGIAN BAY AGAIN?

Well it could happen. As larger cruise ships are built the older smaller ships on the bottom end are retired or often sold to companies that offer smaller venue cruise options that typically do not attract Port fees as they boat shuttle in to shore venues. Think Windstar by example. One of the problems cruise lines are running into, is the absence of new and exciting cruise destinations that are safe for their clients. Most folks using cruise ships as a vacation are boomers or seniors and many have done many cruises. They may have done the eastern and western Caribbean, Panama Canal, Baja, South America east and South America West, Europe Canal tours, Greece, Mediterranean ports, Alaska – some are running out on new places to see.

You couldn't find better scenery than Georgian Bay. There are a number of good deep water ports that a small cruise ship could call home ... including Collingwood, Midland & Penetanguishene. Lots of nice spots to stop along the way – Parry Sound, Britt, Little Current, Gore Bay, Sault St Marie, Tobermory, Lions Head, Owen Sound ... and around the loop we go. Lots of safe anchorages too ... with Park access for traditional onshore fish fry picnics. Entrepreneurs would flock to provide interpretive tours and shore excursions. The smaller cruise ships would head south in the winter to do existing venues like the Chesapeake and short haul coastal cruises. It would be easy peasy to put together a drop dead scenic 10 day cruise on Georgian Bay. It would be an economic bonanza for tourism and some of the small town stops along the way.

So what is the downside? Not everyone would be excited to see a few small cruise ships on the Bay. The base Port would require some capital investment for re-provisioning and dock services. Having said that Windstar operates in Costa Rica in a very remote location with just a basic dock and loading set up.

The real barriers are the stringent standards our country applies in Canadian waters including labour laws affecting crew access and wage standards, environmental laws and vessel safety standards (Coast Guard and insurance requirements) that are constantly a moving target. But none of these things are insurmountable. What it really comes down to is positioning such a cruise as high end and refitting boats for a premium market ... because to make money with the added Canadian generated overhead, taxes and a good dose of jumping hoops - any cruise company would have to charge more than say the same boat running in Central or South America.

Could it really happen? Yes it could and likely will at some point. Already there are other US ports on the Great lakes that are preparing for the small cruise market. There will probably never be the amount of tourists traveling by cruise boat to Georgian Bay destinations as there was back in the early 1900’s, but there could be room for a few ... and they would be far safer than the cruise ships of Georgian Bay’s past. Heaven knows local economies on the Bay could use the boost.

Posted by at 10:05 AM
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