Cruising Forecasted to Have Significant Economic Impact on Great Lakes

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The Great Lakes region is witnessing a year-over-year increase in interest in cruises. As more cruise operators offer voyages to this area, the number of passengers visiting is expected to reach record-breaking levels in 2024.

The economic impact on the area is significant. Since the early 70s, there has been a decline in cruise arrivals. However, the recent steady increase in ship visits is rejuvenating interest in the Great Lakes ports and bringing millions of dollars in cruise-related revenue to the local economies.

Positive 2024 Great Lakes Cruise Projections

As interest in cruising to the Great Lakes region continues to grow since the global pause in operations, the ports in the area expect a record number of cruise ship calls and visitors in 2024.

The projections indicate nearly 600 port calls by cruise ships, bringing over 20,000 individual guests to enjoy the scenic beauty of the Great Lakes. Between 1970 and the start of the global pause in operations in 2019, the region’s cruise industry had been in decline. This year, the ports in the region will have a total number of 140,000 cruise passenger visits, nearly double that just a decade ago.

“As we look ahead to 2024, we remain committed to sustaining the vitality of our region’s cruising sector,” said Anna Tanski, Tourism Director of Cruise the Great Lakes. 

“In just a decade, the number of cruise passengers has more than doubled, and Great Lakes ports continue to thrive as hubs for visitors. We are focused on maintaining this momentum as we navigate the future.”

The surge in interest is having a significant economic impact on the Great Lakes. In 2024, the total economic activity is expected to exceed $200 million, which is approximately $20 million more than the record-setting figures of 2023 and a 50% rise in economic impact compared to 2022.

Viking on Great Lakes
Photo Credit: Captured Photons / Shutterstock

The boost can be attributed to the growing number of passengers and port visits, increased shoreside spending, and the expanding appeal of Great Lakes cruises both in the United States but also internationally. 

The industry’s economic contributions extend beyond direct spending. In Detroit alone, cruise passenger spending generated nearly $1.5 million in direct economic impact in 2023. The appeal of expedition cruising, offering unique experiences such as kayaking and urban explorations, has played a significant role in this growth. 

Wide Array of Cruise Ships Sailing The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes have become a popular sailing area for smaller cruise ships, particularly those that spend the winter in Antarctica and use the summer for some less extreme expedition cruising. 

The 2024 season, which runs roughly between May and October, will see the return of Le Bellot and Le Champlain, operated by Ponant, and Hapag-Lloyd with the HANSEATIC inspiration. Viking Cruises, which doubled its capacity in 2023, will return in 2024 with Viking Octantis and Viking Polaris.

Pearl Mist Cruise Ship, Great Lakes
Pearl Mist Cruise Ship, Great Lakes

Anne Sayers, Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and Chair of Cruise the Great Lakes: “The history of Great Lakes cruising extends back over 150 years, and the rich natural beauty of our region continues to captivate passengers in 2024. 

This enduring fascination is a testament to the timeless allure of the Great Lakes, and the economic impact of cruise passengers supports the economic vitality of large and small destinations.”

Ports like Duluth, Minnesota; Detroit and Mackinac Island, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Toronto, Canada, have become particularly popular due to their unique attractions and significant infrastructure investments. 

Combined with the unique experiences offered by the Great Lakes region, the 2024 season looks certain to confirm the Great Lakes as a premier destination for cruises.

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