A post-cruise guest satisfaction survey conducted by Victory Cruises found Cleveland, Ohio ranked second only to Mackinac Island as the preferred Great Lakes destination.
Located midway across Lake Erie’s southern shore, Cleveland became a regular stop for cruise ships starting in 2017.
This week, Great Lakes Now is profiling some of the smaller cities as they explore whether to expand their offerings for the growing cruise ship industry:
According to Destination Cleveland, about 1,500 passengers disembarked in the city in 2017, and the organization expects to see an increasing number of visitors with each passing year. And that’s despite cruise passengers making up a very recent addition to the overall number of tourists coming into Cleveland.
Unlike Traverse City, Cleveland already hosts facilities that are more than adequate for cruise ships, so its challenge in promoting itself as a cruise destination arises from the need to entice a younger generation of tourists to visit. Passenger cruises on the Great Lakes largely cater towards passengers of the Baby Boomer generation, who already have positive to neutral perceptions of Cleveland, according to Emily Lauer, communication director for Destination Cleveland.
“They [millennials] just don’t know who we are and why you would come here. So it’s more of establishing a perception than changing a perception,” Lauer said.
Visitors coming into the Port of Cleveland will be expected to pay an additional passenger fee of $12.50 for the next five to six years to help refurbish a new federally-mandated customs facility. In spite of this inconvenience, the rest of the Port holds adequate facilities for cruise ships, including a 700-foot-long berth that can accommodate two ships at the same time.
Although the Port of Cleveland itself is a rather industrial zone, past passengers haven’t commented on it as a particular problem, said Dave Gautheil, the Port’s chief commercial officer.
“It’s ideal for passengers to disembark because we can pull trolleys and shuttles and tour buses right next to the vessel and off into the city, into the local economy,” said Gautheil. “The nice part is when that vessel comes in they get off the passenger vessel and they’re looking right out over FirstEnergy Stadium where the Cleveland Browns play and over the top of that you can see the Cleveland skyline.”
Scenic views in Cleveland aren’t just up in the sky, they can be experienced on the water itself. Canoeing and kayaking along the Cuyahoga River are popular activities for residents and tourists alike, and the city boasts multiple urban green spaces.
The push to attract younger travelers to Cleveland has emphasized Cleveland’s entrenched craft breweries and the small but quickly growing foodie scene. And there’s its high-profile local sports culture.
Even with the increased focus on millennials, Lauer and other tourism officials still see Generation X and Boomers as a reliable stream of new and returning guests to the city.
“We are still a destination of world-class arts and culture, which is something that has been shown to be of interest to the Boomer generation of traveler,” said Lauer.
A majority of cruise passengers to Cleveland are other Americans, but Lauer has noticed an ever-increasing number of international visitors as well. One of Lauer’s responsibilities includes marketing towards an international audience, and she’s found that the world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Museum of Art are big pulls for European travelers as well as domestic retirees.
The end result of these efforts has been eight consecutive years of visitor growth outpacing the national average, according to Destination Cleveland president David Gilbert based off of data compiled by Tourism Economics, a travel research firm.
A separate analysis published by Destination Cleveland found that tourism contributed $8.8 billion to the Cuyahoga regional economy in 2017. Cruise ships have become a growing contributor to this economic impact.
In 2017, only nine ships visited the Port. 19 came last year and Destination Cleveland expects a total of 29 cruise ship dockings for 2019, most of which arriving via Victory Cruise Lines.
Featured Image: Cleveland skyline from the Flats, Photo by Erik Drost via wikimedia.com cc 2.0