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Duluth port sorting out terminal details ahead of cruise ship visits

Two cruise visits are expected this summer and nine visits are scheduled during 2022.

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The cruise ship Yorktown is docked behind the DECC in Duluth in 2013. (file / News Tribune)
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Duluth should see its first round of cruise ship passengers in seven years as early as June.

Two cruise line companies have started selling and marketing for trips to stop in Duluth. German-based cruise line Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has sold out, with two stops scheduled this summer, and seven stops are scheduled for 2022 under Viking Cruises.

The last time a cruise ship stopped in Duluth was in 2013, Visit Duluth President Anna Tanski said.

"Usually, it's just one from a ship company, so for us to have Viking committed to this itinerary of seven stops is like nothing we've ever experienced," Tanski said.

Hapag-Lloyd's cruise ship, Hanseatic Inspiration, is scheduled to arrive in Duluth June 12 and June 22 carrying 385 guests. Both trips have sold out, with prices starting around $9,000.

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In 2022, a Viking Cruises ship will stop in Duluth seven times between May and September. Prices start at nearly $7,000. The ship can carry 378 guests.

While tickets are for sale, Tanski said the Viking ship is currently being built, fitting a trend common in the cruise line industry.

"They sell and market before the logistics are worked out," Tanski said. "They sell first and then they start to figure it out. Viking has done this for decades."

Prior to marketing and selling the trips, cruise lines held preliminary meetings with local stakeholders before determining Duluth as a destination point. Visit Duluth was responsible for facilitating the exploration of Duluth as a destination.

"Viking has very, very loyal customers," Tanski said. "They know their demographics tend to be more affluent and people who are well-traveled who are seeking their next adventure or unique experience."

Viking estimates around 9,000 passengers will visit Duluth over the course of the summer in 2022.

"For us that's very significant (economically)," Tanski said. "But it's also the exposure, which you can't necessarily put a price tag on. Viking markets their products to their international base, so putting Duluth on that map, we could never have that kind of reach without their marketing force they have."

Duluth's tourism industry brings in more than $780 million annually in direct economic impact, according to the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. In 2018, the city collected nearly $12.2 million in tourism taxes.

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With the Great Lakes emerging as a desirable place to visit, especially via cruising, Tanski said she's hopeful the city will continue seeing growth in cruising over the next few years. Currently, Visit Duluth is in active communication with other cruise lines considering Duluth stops in the next couple of years.

Passengers aboard the Hanseatic Inspiration will spend their time in Duluth this summer participating in a city tour, visiting the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center as well as Gooseberry Falls State Park and Split Rock Lighthouse, according to the cruise line's website.

Since Viking Cruises has yet to sort out many of the trip logistics, it has not been determined what passengers will do in Duluth.

Other factors also remain undetermined, such as where ships will load and unload passengers, Duluth Seaway Port Authority spokesperson Jayson Hron said. The undetermined terminal location will also need to process international visitors for clearance.

Visit Duluth, the city of Duluth, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center and the Port Authority are working together with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to understand the requirements for a proposed passenger clearance facility.

Funding for the proposed facility was secured in 2018, with the city approving $25,000, the Duluth Economic Development Authority approving $50,000 and the Port Authority chipping in $10,000.

None of that money has been spent yet, as the Port Authority has not purchased any of the equipment and technology needed for the terminal, nor has a location been determined, though spaces within the DECC are being considered, Hron said. Both temporary and permanent facility options are being explored.

"The idea is that we are working to rightsize the facility for the market and take advantage of emerging technology over the next couple years," Hron said. "That's kind of where the discussions are right now."

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In early 2019, two trips from the MV Victory II of the Victory Cruise Lines fleet expected to stop in Duluth that summer were canceled due to a change of ownership.

Ahead of those visits, Duluth was moving forward with plans to put a cruise ship terminal in place that would include the equipment needed for clearing international visitors, but after the only cruises scheduled to arrive that summer were canceled, port officials voided their order for equipment, explaining the terminal should be equipped with the most current technology when the need arrives.

A date has not yet been determined as to when the proposed facility can be expected to reach completion.

"Everyone involved in the process hopes to have the clearing question answered very soon," Hron said. "But no one wants to rush to a potential outcome that isn’t right for this market."

If the investment is made to develop the proposed terminal, Tanski said, Visit Duluth will be ready to make sure it stays as busy as possible.

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