Steps taken to ensure the safe and successful return of cruise ships to the Great Lakes in 2022
The Great Lakes cruise ship industry looks set for a strong comeback in 2022.
That’s according to Stephen Burnett, executive director of the Great Lakes Cruise Association.
“The tourism industry generally grapples with the fact that it needs to find a way to operate safely for the well-being of its customers, its employees and its community,” he said.
The industry has learned a lot since the outbreaks of COVID-19 at the start of the pandemic in early 2020.
Cruise ships have not sailed the Great Lakes since 2019, before the pandemic began. The Canadian government lifted the ban on cruise ships in Canadian waters at the end of 2021.
Burnett estimates there could be more than 20,000 passengers this season – if the pandemic doesn’t force cancellations. That’s a 40% increase from last season, in 2019.
He added that passenger interest is high and tourism businesses are very optimistic about the 2022 season, but the main concern they keep hearing is how they will keep COVID-19 away from cruise ships and ports they visit.
Safe approach to cruising
Steps have been taken to increase the safety of passengers, crew and communities ashore, and Burnett said a safe approach is the only way to make cruising a success this year.
“There is considerable vigilance here,” he said. “Nobody wants the industry to fail, so the best interests of the community, crew and guests are really at the beginning of everything we do,” he said.
There are now vaccine requirements, regular testing and temperature screening on board.
“You can’t get on a cruise ship to sail without proving you’re vaccinated,” Burnett said. “While you are on this ship, you will be continuously monitored by a heat-sensing device, which will record your temperature each time you board and disembark the ship.”
Emphasis is also placed on onboard hygiene – both personal hygiene and structural (surface) hygiene on cruise ships. Additionally, there are now capacity restrictions that will ensure ships are not overcrowded.
Burnett said cruise ships will also adhere to all protocols and procedures of each port community in which the boat docks.
“They are the host community and we are the visitors, nothing less would be acceptable.”
A Balancing Exercise for First Nations Communities
Dawn Madahbee Leach understands the need to balance health and safety concerns with stimulating the local economy.
She is the Executive Director of Waubetek, an economic development agency on Birch Island, which helps Indigenous entrepreneurs access financing and also provides support for First Nations businesses.
This agency played an important role in connecting First Nations communities around Manitoulin Island to the cruise ship industry when it began traveling to the Great Lakes region. Companies from various port communities offered shore tours for cultural attractions.
“The tourism industry is one of the most important industries in the [Manitoulin] region,” said Madahbee Leach.
Initially, a circle of elders developed cultural integrity guidelines to ensure that Indigenous peoples were not exploited and that sacred Indigenous cultural practices, such as ceremonies, were not sold to visitors.
When the pandemic hit the tourism sector, it took a heavy hit. People have been discouraged from traveling and many First Nations communities have discouraged visitors during this time to help protect vulnerable elders in their respective communities.
But now, tour operators and connecting businesses are gearing up for the 2022 season and are especially looking forward to the economic dollars visitors will bring to their communities.
Madahbee Leach said she understands business owners are eager to get back to normal and generate much needed revenue, but that has to be balanced with the health and safety of communities.
“Any type of group travel is very difficult during this time,” she said. “If you have visitors from other areas who may have a high incidence of coronavirus, that would be of great concern as we want to protect our [First Nation] people,” she said.
Burnett is particularly excited about the Lake Superior North Shore Inside Passage starting in the summer of 2022. The new excursion includes stops in Terrace Bay, Schreiber, Rossport and Red Rock in northwestern Ontario.
“It’s possible for a cruise ship to make its way through these islands on the inside passage so to speak, and bring some economic development to the communities,” he said, explaining that cruise ships expedition use a device called dynamic positioning to moor in a bay. .