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We don’t know what we don’t know.” Anonymous
Friday, July 17, 2020. This post is written to the leadership of convention and visitors bureaus, chambers of commerce, mayors, elected officials, and town managers along Eastern America’s Intracoastal Waterways.
- If your town does not prominently include a welcome to cruisers and links to local marinas, your town is probably “missing the boat!”
- When you’re missing the boat, you’re missing an inexpensive and easy-to-reach source of revenue for your community!
- If I owned a business in your community, I’d be asking hard questions as to why we were ignoring the transient cruising market!
As a retired destination marketing exec, cruising has been an eye-opening experience, especially when planning overnight visits to ports along the way. We travel with our rescue, “Kate the Mate,” so when cruising we stay in marinas. It seems that too many communities along the intracoastal waterways of America’s East Coast don’t realize the economic potential of that waterway at their doorstep and the cruising market. My question is why?
- Marketing to cruisers DOES NOT require expensive advertising,
- Marketing to cruisers is as simple as reaching out to the cruising community with an acknowledgement on your website — AND MAKING MARINA INFORMATION EASY TO FIND.
- For the heck of it, I’d also put my town’s “Longitude and Latitude” on my homepage, just to show cruisers that I understand cruising lingo and the importance of coordinates when you’re on big water with no street signs!
- Having designed and developed websites, I know that editing your site to include a simple welcome to cruisers, and links to marinas, is not rocket science to the person responsible for your website.
In the 1980s, I was recruited by the Charleston Trident Chamber of Commerce to merge three travel related entities into the full-service convention and visitors bureau, now known as the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau. In the beginning, our offices were in the historic Rice Mill Building, overlooking the Charleston City Marina. With our limited budget and lack of knowledge of the cruising market, we never thought of reaching out to cruisers. Since our budget was primarily generated by accommodations tax revenue, our primary goal was “putting heads in beds.” This is — or should — still be the goal of convention and visitors bureaus. “Heads in beds” = increased development, jobs, tourism expenditures, and tax revenues.
Unfortunately, the majority of ICW destinations including many represented by some of the largest and best funded convention and visitors bureaus, still do not include a welcome to cruisers or links to marinas, on their website. The beautiful and historic city of Saint Augustine, FL is a great destination to visit. The town owns and operates the Saint Augustine Municipal Marina, yet the Visit Saint Augustine website does not list marinas under “PLACES TO STAY” — although Camping is found there. Fortunately, a cruiser can use Search “marinas” and get a whole list of them. Many other destination websites completely ignore marinas, but include links to camping and RV information. Many destinations that don’t include a welcome to cruisers, and links to marinas, feature numerous photographs highlighting the community’s relationship to the water and boating!
In the 1980s, destination marketing organizations didn’t have the benefit of the internet and social media to get our message across. Today, reaching out to the cruising community is as simple as including local marinas on your website. Most cruisers “Think Outside the Boat,” so they are seeking the same information that should already be included on your destination’s site — restaurants, attractions, shopping, events, historic sites, and general visitor information. Today, with the advent of websites and social media, every destination along the Intracoastal Waterways of America should include a welcome to cruisers and links to local marinas.
Those who have never spent time cruising, may not realize the potential economic impact of the market, no matter how many cabin cruisers, sailboats, trawlers, and motoryachts they see locally on the ICW or in their town harbor. I admit that I never realized the full potential of the market until we returned to Charleston, bought a bigger boat, and started cruising. It’s a market that is worthy of inclusion on your website. The money spent by cruisers goes far beyond marinas.
Georgetown, SC, has recognized the market for many years, and provides links to boating information prominently on the homepage of their website. In 2018 when we were cruising to the Chesapeake, we overnighted at Georgetown’s Harborwalk Marina. Arriving after the marina had closed, we were met by two other boaters that had come over to help with our lines as we docked. In conversation we learned they were doing America’s Great Loop, and there were six “Great Looper” boats in the marina that night. Every “Looper” that we have met has been a prime example of boaters helping boaters.
We love cruising to the South Carolina town of Beaufort. The town owns the Safe Harbors Marina adjacent to the beautiful Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, yet the Visit Beaufort website does not include Marinas under “PLACES TO STAY,” but it does include Campgrounds. Marinas are listed under Boating and Fishing, which may be found under the heading of THINGS TO DO, but you must be willing to spend time searching on your own to find them, since the website does not appear to offer a Search option.
North Carolina offers a myriad of outstanding opportunities for cruisers. The Albemarle Loop, the historic Dismal Swamp Canal, and miles of coastal rivers, sounds, and canals make up the state’s portion of the Atlantic ICW.
Wilmington is the state’s largest coastal destination. On its Wilmington and Beaches website, finding marinas is a multi-part process. Begin by clicking onto ABOUT, on the website homepage. Under ABOUT, scroll down and click onto GETTING AROUND. Under GETTING AROUND, scroll down and click onto MARINAS. Clicking onto MARINAS will take you to a listing of some of the finest marinas in my home state of North Carolina.
The historic Beaufort County town of Belhaven — population 1,580 — is a leader in recognizing the cruising market.
The executive director of the Belhaven Community Chamber of Commerce has spent years cruising. She is putting to good use her knowledge of the market’s impact on a local economy. Marina and boating information is upfront and easy to find under Boating and Docks on the homepage of Visit Belhaven NC.
The town and marinas recognize the Atlantic ICW is their “interstate.” For them, that recognition results in year-round transient cruising business. “The boat stops here!”
In Virginia, we always stop at the Atlantic Yacht Basin, in Chesapeake, during each journey north and return journey south on the ICW. As a matter of fact, we’ve spent more money in Chesapeake, than any destination we’ve visited — and not all of the money was spent on our boat! Although the Atlantic Yacht Basin attracts some of the largest yachts cruising the Atlantic ICW, you’re going to have to look hard to find information about marinas on the Visit Chesapeake website. Hint: Save yourself time and use the little search icon in the upper righthand corner of the website’s homepage.
Continuing north from Chesapeake on the ICW, the official website for Portsmouth, at ICW mile marker “0,” lists marinas under the homepage heading of Things to Do ~ Boating, as does Visit Norfolk, with Things to Do ~ On The Water ~ Marinas.
In 2018 we made our first cruise through the Tidewater area as we cruised to the Chesapeake Bay. Although the weather ultimately kept us off the Bay, we spent time in Hampton because an old college roommate and other classmates once lived there. He’s no longer there, but just being in Hampton brought back many memories of my freshman year at Chowan College and classmates from Hampton and the Tidewater area. We enjoyed that first visit enough to have since stayed multiple nights at the Hampton Public Piers. It’s conveniently located within sight of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel and entrance to the Bay. It and other marinas on the Visit Hampton website can be found by going to See and Do ~ Boat, Fish, & Jet Ski, and scrolling the entries under that heading.
Marinas may also be found on the Downtown Hampton website. There, search by clicking BOATING, on the home page. The link takes you to Marinas, Services, Public Piers, and Reserve Dock. Both websites are worth a visit the next time your cruise plan takes you past Hampton. The Hampton Public Piers are within easy walking distance of downtown, the Virginia Air and Space Museum, the Historic Hampton Carousel, a wonderful, fenced, dog park, the incredible Glazed Donuts shop (get there early, they close when they run out!), and Bull Island Brewing, that overlooks the piers!
Cape Charles, “on the South end of Virginia’s cape,” and the “Slightly off the Chesapeake Bay” Rappahannock River town of Urbanna, VA are very much about welcoming cruisers. Numerous cruisers that we’ve met along the ICW have encouraged visiting both little towns, when cruising the bay.
In July of 2019, we spent 5 nights at Bridge Marinas in Urbana. Why did we choose Urbanna? Because two couples that we met at the Cape Charles Town Harbor were from Urbanna, and told us it was a beautiful historic town that we “had to visit,” and the “Admiral” could celebrate her July 4 birthday while enjoying the town’s boat parade and fireworks display!
Every ICW destination that is not currently reaching out to cruisers could learn from the above Intracoastal Waterway and Chesapeake Bay destinations highlighted in red. Some may be a little more systematic than others in their approach, but like the rest of your website, you need to do what works best for you. The bottom line is if your ICW destination is not reaching out to cruisers and other boaters on the ICW, you’re “missing the boat” and the revenue that goes with it.
DESTINATIONS, DO IT NOW…
- Market to cruisers and other boaters through your destination’s website
- Add a Welcome to your visitors arriving by boat! The welcome may go under your new MARINAS heading!
- To be super welcoming, KEEP THE SEARCH SIMPLE! If you can’t add the heading of MARINAS or VISITING BY BOAT to your homepage, put MARINAS under your existing heading of PLACES TO STAY, WHERE TO STAY, or whatever heading used for other types of accommodations, or under BOATING, if you have that heading.
- To be double-super welcoming, add your destination’s Longitude and Latitude! It shows cruisers that your town understands cruising lingo and the importance of coordinates when you’re on big water with no street signs!
- Let your website help them “Think Outside the Boat” for all that your destination has to offer.
- If your destination is running ads in boating publications, be sure and include, “We Love Cruisers” or “Transient Boaters Welcome.”
- If your organization has a media development person, they should develop a press kit specifically for use by editors and freelance writers focused on the cruising and boating community.
- Have questions, contact me and we’ll plan a phone discussion, or meet when the “Admiral,” “Kate the Mate,” and I are cruising through your backyard.
Wishing you safe harbor at the end of each day,
Oh Captain My Captain
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