Cruise ports on the Saint Lawrence River have reported that 21 ships from 17 cruise lines brought more than 166,000 passengers and 63,000 crew members to the region in 2009, up from 126,000 passengers and 45,000 crew members in 2008.

Rene Trepanier, executive director of the Cruise The Saint Lawrence Association, told Cruise Industry News he expects further growth in 2010, with the cruise traffic from this year continuing, plus a new ship from MSC Cruises.

Just about all of the nine ports are building and/or upgrading their wharf and terminal facilities, including Saguenay, which opened its new terminal in September. Construction is underway in Sept-Iles on a new wharf; Saint-Pierre is rebuilding its welcome area; and Iles-de-la-Madeleine plans to improve its tender facility and welcome area, Trepanier noted.

The strategy is to have more ships calling at all the ports. Once the ships come, Trepanier said the association and the destinations work with the cruise lines as partners to ensure that they want to stay for the long-term. "We have a unique strength," he added, "the backing of our government – on the federal, provincial and local levels. They are all working very closely with us and see the cruise industry as a very positive development for our region.”

One objective is to develop more cruise business during the summer months. "The weather is nice and we have so much to offer," Trepanier said.

The association would also like to see ships homeport in Montreal or Quebec and sail seven- to 10-day cruises within the Saint Lawrence, making the obligatory foreign call at Saint-Pierre and Miquelon situated at the mouth of the river. Trepanier believes such an itinerary could be very successful three to four months out of the year.

“Despite the challenging economic juncture, the 2009 season proved both positive and constructive from every standpoint for our destination,” said Priscilla Nemey, president of the association.

The nine member ports on the Saint Lawrence all welcomed ships, led by Quebec with 87,000 passengers, Montreal with 32,000 and Saguenay with 26,000. This past season also saw first-time calls at Baie-Comeau, Sept-Iles, Havre-Saint-Pierre, Gaspe and Iles-de-la-Madeleine.

Representatives from the Saint Lawrence ports held the fourth annual meeting of their Saint Lawrence Cruise Association in Sept-Iles last month to discuss the season and to ensure the continued development of their ports and ships’ services along with the shore-side experiences for passengers and crew.

The association also hosted the Canada/New England cruise symposium in Saguenay in June.

Saguenay later inaugurated its state-of-the-art cruise terminal on Sept.4 with the arrival of Holland America Line’s Eurodam. A total of 15 ships called during the 2009 season.

Eight ships made 11 calls during the first cruise season in Gaspe, with 11,000 passengers and 3,600 crew. Nearly a third of the passengers were reported to have booked shore excursions.

Baie-Comeau reported 4,000 visitors from Holland America and Fred. Olsen, and is forecasting 8,500 for 2010 and 14,000 for 2011.

Sept-Iles’ inaugural season saw three calls in 2009 – two by Norwegian Cruise Line and one by Holland America Line. Sept-Iles’ docking facilities have been under construction and are expected to be ready by next fall, when the Norwegian Spirit is slated to call on Oct. 4.

Only Montreal saw a slight decline in international cruise traffic of 2.2 percent from 2008, to a passenger total of 38,764, although the Montreal-Iles-de-la-Madeleine route increased by 3 percent – 6,532 passengers this year compared to 6,324 last year.

The Port of Quebec attributed its increase in traffic to more turn-around ships and more than 33,300 passengers chose Quebec as their arrival or departure point. For the first time, the port carried out three turn-around operations in a single 48-hour period. Six new ships also called.

Next year is shaping up to be just as good.

The port authority estimates that the cruise calls generate direct economic benefits of nearly $80 million, with each passenger spending a daily average of $118 per port call.

Next year, the first caller will be Costa in April. Most of the traffic, however, is traditionally in the fall, with 70 percent of all calls in September and October. But Quebec is working to increase its summer traffic as well. Next year, Holland America Line’s Maasdam will call in May, June and July.

Quebec celebrated its 500,000th passenger this fall. He arrived on the Maasdam. As it turned out, that passenger had been in Quebec on his honeymoon and was returning with his wife of 40 years. The Maasdam also happened to make her 100th call since September 1999.