ALPENA - For two days in August Alpena will play host to the visitors who are taking a Great Lakes cruise on the Travel Dynamics International cruise ship Yorktown. The 257-foot cruise ship will stop in Alpena for a half day on Aug. 2 and again on Aug. 14 and while here the guests will have a chance to get to know Alpena, as well as visit its attractions.
Target Alpena Director Jim Klarich said about 18 months ago he talked to the City of Alpena about any projects or businesses that have explored opportunities in Alpena, but for whatever reason or another it never panned out. Klarich and Harbor Master Don Gilmet began communicating with Travel Dynamics and finally a plan was set to have the boat stop in Alpena. Klarich said having the Yorktown and its passengers visit is huge for the area.
"When that ship pulls in here it is going to be a spectacle and I think it is going to be one of those things where people line the side of the river to witness it," Klarich said.
Downtown Development Authority Director Lesslee Dort said a committee has been formed to come up with ideas on how best to serve the people from the ship and to coordinate plans with an advance scout from Travel Dynamics who will help set an itinerary and a port-of-call activity list.
"The scout will determine what will be seen and what will be offered, but they will still be here and be able to see really cool things Alpena has to offer," Dort said. "I'm excited that they are going to leave and go home and talk about those things and then more visits will be planned and maybe friends or family will come."
Diana Ditto, marketing manager for Travel Dynamics, said the popularity of the Great Lakes cruises have increased over the last several years. She said the Yorktown holds about 130 passengers and one of the trips with a stop in Alpena is already sold out. She said Alpena can benefit from having the boat visiting, as well as its brand, which the tour company will use in promotional material.
Ditto said the company issues a half-million flyers around the world and Alpena will be mentioned in each. She said businesses in other coastal cities in Michigan have seen business double after the boat makes port. She said the tour company already is looking toward scheduling for 2014 and she said it is possible Alpena could be a more frequent stop on the cruise.
"We are already looking at changes for 2014 and we always make them based on the popularity. The 10-day cruises, which involve Lake Superior, are always extra popular and that one includes Alpena," Ditto said. "We have a large population of birders who take the cruise and Alpena and Presque Isle are a great area for that, as well as other outdoor activities."
Alpena Convention and Visitor Bureau Director Mary Beth Stutzman said having Alpena be one of the destinations on the cruise is a chance for local businesses, attractions and the community as a whole to come together and make a strong impression so the Yorktown will return, but also so the passengers will return for longer than just the half day this summer. She said Alpena always was presented itself well in the past and expects the same this time.
"We are in the spotlight any time a visitor comes to town and it is best we put our best foot forward because you never know when our experience with someone will make them want to come back," Stutzman said. "You never know if they will bring another family with them, bring a businesses with them or know someone who might be interested in doing those things. We are on a stage and it is a performance we are used to because we love our community."
Some of the ideas being exchanged in the committee include a walking audio tour of some of the historic sights in Alpena to a taste-of-the-town sampling from local shops. There also could be a special shipwreck cruise, as well as kayak and scuba diving excursions.
Stutzman said the final decision will be made by the scout, but by making the visitors aware of what other activities there are available, it could lead to a return visit.
"They are only here for a part of a day, so it would be nice to give them a variety of things, but we have so many great things to see the challenge will be narrowing it down," Stutzman said.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.