July 16, 2013
Interview with a passionate cruise aficionado
Destination Saint Lawrence is attracting ever increasing media and sectoral coverage as development continues. We therefore deemed it appropriate to do a little digging and find out more about this home-grown success story. And who better to provide an enlightened insight into the situation than René Trépanier, Executive Director of Cruise the Saint Lawrence and one of the driving influences behind achievements to date.
- When was CSL founded and how long have you been at the helm?
Cruise the Saint Lawrence came into being in 1999 on the initiative of several Saint Lawrence ports of call, and I assumed the post of Executive Director in 2005 at at time when destination development potential was becoming increasingly more evident.
- Who or what ultimately triggered efforts to develop the cruise sector in Québec?
CSL was the brainchild of our Montréal and Québec ports of call which had been welcoming cruise ships for a number of years. Piloted by visionary Ross Gaudreault of the Port of Québec, the project began to take shape. He was convinced beyond a doubt of destination potential and the benefits of grouping together the Saint Lawrence ports of call under a single umbrella organization. Success to date has proven him right!
Baie-Comeau and Saguenay were next to join the burgeoning association in 2000. Then, following a market study conducted by BEA International on behalf of CSL in 2004, we were able to identify the nine potential ports of call located in communities along the Saint Lawrence. A regional tour was subsequently organized to raise local community awareness of the needs and expectations of partners interested in helping us develop our ports of call. In 2005, Trois-Rivières committed to cruise sector development, followed in 2006 by Havre Saint-Pierre, Sept-Iles, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands. That same year, an observer mission to Alaska was organized for potential ports of call and financial partners. This mission played a decisive role in that it enabled stakeholders to more properly assess potential attractions in Québec and to better understand the nature of tourism products of interest to cruise operators. One year later in 2007, Desjardins Marketing tabled a fact-finding report with a view to establishing requisite criteria for welcoming international cruise ships. That same year, a further study focusing on the economic impact of cruise sector activities was published by Business Research & Economic Advisers (BREA). Findings from the two studies came to form the basis of what was to become, in 2008, the provincial government's cruise sector strategy for the years ahead. CSL today groups together nine ports of call, each of which operates in full compliance with the association's mission and values.
- What is it that makes you so passionate about cruise sector development in Québec?
It is a privilege for me to oversee a mandate with respect to which a group of players have, for the first time ever, joined forces to develop a given sector of activity. The project was in the initial stages of development when CSL came into being. Having developed a product which is both attractive and consistent with international cruise sector demands, we are now well on our way on the road to success. This situation owes notably to the mutually complementary combination of urban and regional tourism products. What is more, I am fortunate to enjoy close contact with cruise company network stakeholders. As numbers are relatively small, it is easier to weave close ties with people, while generating tangible product and destination impact.
- What is the nature of your involvement with the various ports of call?
Essentially, I play the role of intermediary between the ports of call and the cruise companies. I ensure sound member cohesion, support port of call development efforts, and retain a critical eye with regard to products on offer across our network. Boasting a thorough understanding of cruise company needs and port of call attributes, I am well poised to underscore the primary strngths of each. In the near future, we will be intervening actively with member ports of call, the aim being to provide passengers with greeting operations second to none.
- How does our made-in-Québec product measure up internationally?
Our made-in-Québec product component is integrated into broader Canada/New England itineraries which have continued to grow by leaps and bounds in recent years. Despite current supply representing an important attribute, much remains to be done to expand and develop our product range. We must pursue action already under way and assist our ports of call in developing more distinctive products and offering a greater diversity of destination-specific packages. The potential for welcoming increasing numbers of ships is on the rise. It is up to us to remain proactive and on top of traveller requirements and expectations.
- How do you view the future of cruiseshipping development in Québec in the medium and longer terms?
Important developments are in the cards for our Montréal and Québec ports of call which must adjust to destination popularity and ever growing demand. Infrastructure enhancements will make it possible to avoid congestion and sustain a quality experience for passengers. In terms of itineraries, I am convinced that the loop format will gain in popularity in the years ahead and that expansion of the cruise season into summer will grow as a result of the presence of each of the Maasdam and Veendam this year.
- In your opinion, what are Québec’s most important attributes for cruiseshippers and cruise companies?
We are particularly fortunate to be able to count upon Québec, the most popular port of call in the world according to passengers from all cruise companies combined. Québec's popularity contributes handsomely to destination notoriety. Montréal and Montréal-Trudeau International Airport are also important attributes which help drive destination development. Ready accessibility makes the Saint Lawrence a destination of choice. Additionally, our two embarkation ports (Montréal and Québec) combine with a diversity of regional ports of call and enable us to provide cruise shippers with a comprehensive, well rounded product. I must also underscore the success of our port of call at Saguenay, prized for the quality of passenger greeting operations. Saguenay contributes actively to destination performance and attractiveness.
- You recently experienced a Canada/New England cruise first-hand. Your impressions?
I was incredibly surprised by the quality of the tourism supply at each port of call. Having made some interesting discoveries, I am convinced of overall product appeal for Canadians and individuals from abroad. I must admit to having been particularly impressed with the segment of the trip from the tip of Ile d’Orléans to Montréal. Passage under the various bridges was no less than spectacular. Additionally, these trips are accessible to customer types of all ages, whether active or less active, given the tremendous range of excursions on offer.
- If you were asked to convince a customer to book a holiday cruise on the Saint Lawrence, how woudl you proceed?
Each of our member ports of call is ripe with interest! Sailing the Saint Lawrence and admiring the coastal areas from the comfort of a cruise ship is an experience that is as extraordinary as it is impressive. What is more, along the way, one has occasion to relive the development of Canada and enjoy insights into the nation's history from Halifax to Québec and on to Montréal. As historic as the trip may be, it is no less contemporary given scheduled stops in an appealing diversity of modern-day towns and villages.
In conclusion, we wish to thank René Trépanier for his dynamic involvement in the cruise sector and wish him many long years at the helm of CSL to pursue the development of Québec's international cruise sector.