Behind the record season that Saint Lawrence cruise ports recently reported is a five-year plan running through 2013 and supported by a $156 million budget, Nicole Menard, minister of tourism for Quebec told Cruise Industry News. She said that $52 million was funded by Quebec and the rest by the Canadian federal government and the nine-member ports of the Cruise The Saint Lawrence Association themselves.

“We were looking for new products,” Menard explained, “and we realized when we started this project that the Saint Lawrence had much more potential, but we did not have the infrastructure – the terminals.”

When the plan was proposed, she said, it was agreed to build new six port terminals, and the first was inaugurated in Saguenay last September.

But it is not enough just to agree to build, Menard added: “In order to be successful, you need the support of the local population. You need to have the organization to run the ports and accommodate the ships, the passengers and the crew. You need to resolve language issues so people can communicate, and you need to make sure that services are available and restaurants are open, for example, when the ships call.” Service training is also part of the program.

Hence, much planning and detail work is behind the success of the 2009 season and the promising outlook, Menard said. Even shore excursions have been created where none existed only a few months ago.

Despite this huge effort over a relatively short time Holland America passengers have given these ports some of their highest satisfaction ratings.

Passenger experiences range from visiting the aboriginal population and the Inuits, to sightseeing of the region’s many nature vistas, to activities such kayaking and bicycling, in addition to sampling the local cuisine and more.

The bottom line is about the economy, Menard said, and the recognition that tourism plays an important role generating jobs and creating income for the local population.