Why cruise guests can expect a warm welcome in the Saint Lawrence region

René Trépanier, executive director of Cruise the Saint Lawrence, tells Rebecca Gibson how the organisation is working with partners to fly the flag for Canada

Why cruise guests can expect a warm welcome in the Saint Lawrence region
Montreal is one of Canada's busiest and most popular cruise ports (Image: Mathieu Dupuis)

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Where can cruise lines and their guests enjoy the world’s best welcome experience?

According to René Trépanier, the answer is any one of the nine ports in the Cruise the Saint Lawrence association. Whether they’re visiting major ports like Montréal and Québec, or smaller ports like Trois-Rivières, Saguenay, Baie-Comeau, Sept-Îles, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Gaspésie and Îles de la Madeleine, Trépanier is confident that cruise guests will always be greeted with friendly and professional hospitality. Why? It’s all down to Cruise the Saint Lawrence’s (CSL) ‘Best Bienvenue’ initiative.

“To successfully attract cruise lines, ports must offer well-equipped berthing facilities, a well-maintained terminal, easy access to tourist attractions, and high-quality crew and passenger services,” says Trépanier. “Our ports have always welcomed guests warmly, but ‘Best Bienvenue’ ensures that every process the guests go through from the moment they disembark their ships to the moment they embark on their shore excursions (and vice versa) is carried out to the same standard across the Saint Lawrence region.”

To develop the ‘Best Bienvenue’, CSL thoroughly evaluated each cruise port according to hundreds of criteria related to their infrastructure, human resources, the quality of their passenger and crew services to create official procedures ports must follow.

“Port staff must deliver services that meet the needs of cruise guests and crew, and ensure that the port and passenger terminal are safe,” comments Trépanier. “We also evaluated the types of shore excursions that are popular with guests to develop tools and training for local guides and transport providers. Plus, we have a short online webinar to provide everyone involved in welcoming cruise visitors– including port service providers, security personnel, taxi drivers and others – with an overview of all the basics.”

Soon, CSL will expand its ‘Best Bienvenue’ into the destinations themselves, granting shops, restaurants, taxi drivers, tour operators and other tourism-related providers ‘BienvenueCroisiéristes’ certification.

“We want cruise guests to receive the same high-quality services wherever they go, so providers meeting our ‘Best Bienvenue’ criteria will be able to display our logo,” says Trépanier. “I’m proud that feedback from passengers and cruise lines show the quality of the welcome has increased significantly since we implemented the policy.”

CSL also works as a ‘family’ when it comes to marketing the Saint Lawrence region.

“Rather than cruise lines speaking to individual ports, we organise one meeting and showcase all the itinerary and shore excursion possibilities in the Saint Lawrence region at once,” explains Trépanier. “This gives a better overview of what’s on offer, making it easier for operators to envision how a Saint Lawrence itinerary would work. We’ve also formed the Cruise Canada New England alliance, working in collaboration with Cruise Atlantic Canada, FlynnCruiseport Boston, NYCruise and Cruise Maine USA to make the region a year-round cruise destination in the next decade.”

In addition, CSL promotes its member ports at multiple regional and international industry events, and hosts annual familiarisation (fam) trips for cruise executives.

“Week-long fam trips are the best way to show cruise executives the available berthing facilities, shore excursions and tourist attractions at every port and nearby tourist attractions,” says Trépanier. “They help executives to confirm that they definitely should add the Saint Lawrence region to itineraries. The initiative paid dividends last year because every executive on the fam trip booked cruise ship calls in our destination. We can also take cruise executives on private tours of all the different shore excursion options.”

Trépanier expects these fam trips to help CSL develop the Saint Lawrence region into a popular destination for winter exploration voyages and summer cruises.

“Canada and New England are famous for autumn foliage, so our season peaks in September and October, but we’ve spent years telling cruise lines about the great weather, bird- and whale-watching opportunities and other summer-only activities,” he says. “Now our fam trips let them experience it for themselves, summer bookings are definitely increasing.”

CSL is also working to attract different types of guests.

“Traditionally, we’ve welcomed older guests, but we’re starting to see younger cruisers and families, so we’re developing activities to suit them,” says Trépanier. “Disney Cruise Line will make inaugural calls at Québec City, Saguenay and Baie-Comeau this September and we’ve developed new shore excursions that will delight its young guests. Having a family-oriented cruise company visiting will send a big message to the cruise industry that the Saint Lawrence region is a good family destination.”

To cater for the rising number of cruise guests, CSL’s member ports are investing in various infrastructure upgrades. All nine now have welcome pavilions for cruise guests and dedicated areas with free wi-fi access for crew, while two of the smaller ports have converted shipping containers into colourful kiosks that provide shelter on the wharf. Summer 2017 saw Montréal complete a US$78 million renovation project at Iberville Passenger Terminal and nearby public square, Alexandra Pier. The terminal now has more capacity, better reception facilities for passengers and crew, a parking area, a green roof, and four shore power points for ships to connect to Montréal’s electrical power grid. This is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2,800 tonnes annually.

“Montréal now has a beautiful, modern port that heightens its appeal as a marquee cruise destination and ensures cruise guests immediately get a taste of the Saint Lawrence region’s beauty and cosmopolitan vibe when their ship pulls into the harbour,” remarks Trépanier. “Plus, locals can walk on the green roof and get close to both the ships and the water, which enables them to really connect with the cruise industry and understand how it benefits Montréal.”

Next up for infrastructure improvements is the Port of Québec. “A call in Québec is top of the list for most cruise operators when they’re planning Canada and New England itineraries, but being a marquee port puts a lot of pressure on the cruise berths and passenger terminal, particularly in the autumn season,” says Trépanier. “The port already has an improvement plan in place to ensure it can better meet current demand and cater for predicted future growth.”

Trépanier is excited for the year ahead. “Every year we say that this will be the best cruise season ever, but I truly believe that 2018 will be very successful because we’ve already booked more calls than in previous years, including maiden visits and calls from more river vessels,” says Trépanier. “We’re always looking for new ways to excite our guests and cruise line partners, so we’ll continue developing the ports, shore excursions to offer the ‘Best Bienvenue.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Thursday, May 17, 2018