CORNER BROOK — Frank Reardon has been to many places with strong tourism sectors and one thing has always stood out.
“Everywhere I’ve travelled, themes were the key,” said Reardon, a member of the Corner Brook Museum and Archives board of directors and one of a dozen people who attended a cruise ship readiness session in Corner Brook Thursday night.
The session was facilitated mainly by the Humber Economic Development Board and the Corner Brook Port Corporation in anticipation of the 15 cruise ships scheduled to visit the city’s port this year. The main idea discussed was the concept of turning the Remembrance Square area in front of City Hall into a sort of communal launching area for cruise ship visitors who want to explore and shop in the area.
Reardon said incorporating local historical themes into this concept would be beneficial.
“Here in the Corner Brook-Bay of Islands region, you have the First Nations historical background, then you have Capt. (James) Cook, the French presence in the area, logging and he fishery,” he said.
The idea of having costumed persons placed strategically around the downtown area to offer guidance to passengers looking for a place to shop, a bite to eat or an adventure to go on is under consideration as part of the concept being proposed.
The plan will be tested when the Maasdam, the first ship slated to call on Corner Brook, arrives in port July 17. Partners involved want to create a festival atmosphere with entertainment and kiosks where tour operators who can’t pre-book clients for onshore excursions can try to sell their offerings to passengers and crew looking to do something on a whim.
“It can’t just be a free-for-all,” cautioned Reardon. “It could be a good or a bad thing. I’d have to see it in action before I decide.”
Monica Butler was at the session representing Humber River Cruise, a company about to start its second season offering trips along the Humber River in a 40-passenger, canopy-covered catamaran.
“I hope this city hall thing goes ahead,” she said. “It takes a year or two to get in on pre-booking, so it’s great for the smaller businesses that haven’t gotten their foot in that door yet. Marketing it so they get these people to this area will be the big thing. Then it would be up to the individual operator to advertize their tour.”
At season’s end, feedback will be compiled and a strategy for future cruise ship visitor experiences will be developed.
This season, local businesses will be provided with interpretive city maps being developed at the College of the North Atlantic, window signage welcoming cruise visitors and notifications about ship arrivals or cancellations and tips on attracting cruise ship visitors.
It is estimated that 40 to 60 per cent of cruise ship passengers and crew avail of pre-booked onshore excursions. That leaves roughly half of them available to do other things.
It is also estimated that these visitors spend between $70 and $80 each when they visit a port.
Mike Jackson, the City of Corner Brook’s manager of business services, thinks Corner Brook may be below that average. That could turn around when the majority of ships visit this fall if the test run during the Maasdam’s visit in July is a success.
“They probably don’t spend that much in Corner Brook because we don’t really get them to do it and we’re probably missing out on this,” he said. “There will be a couple million bucks walking around Corner Brook over a two-month period that we can get our hands on if we do this properly.”