MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — The cruising industry is back in full force, bringing tens of thousands of passengers to the Midwest.

Now, there are new changes to make cruises in our region run faster.

Cruise ship tourism on the Great Lakes has grown significantly in the last several years after an international campaign to grow our area as a cruising destination.

Cruise the Great Lakes is now having a record year as passengers return in droves to Midwest cruise lines.

“I think that inability to travel made people even more desirous to go traveling through cruising,” said Dave Lorenz, the vice president of Travel Michigan. “There was this real pent-up demand for cruising.”

In their first full season since the pandemic began, the group says an all-time high of nearly 150,000 passengers are visiting Great Lakes ports, up 25% from 2019.

“Cruising in the Great Lakes is of interest,” Lorenz said. “It is growing. It’s getting more people to come here to spend some time and some significant amount of money here as well. And that helps us to grow and retain jobs in our region.”

Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder helped launch Cruise the Great Lakes in 2018. It’s an international partnership to bring more people to the Great Lakes, boosting Michigan’s tourism.

‘We felt if we could get them to come to the Great Lakes to get a sample of what they could enjoy, if they were to come here for a week or two, or even come here for school as an investment or to live here, we felt like we could really benefit from it,” Lorenz said. “All of us.”

They say it’s a boon for cities like Muskegon — a frequent stop on the trips — and its local businesses.

“This has been a great boost for Muskegon’s tourism,” said Cindy Larsen, the president of the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. “We’re being exposed to a group of people who may never have even heard of us. But they’re coming to our community for the first time and they love everything that they see and do here.”

Lorenz agreed with Larsen.

“They love this port,” Lorenz said. “In fact, some of them say Muskegon is their favorite port because of the way Muskegon folks treat them. They know they’re welcome here. They will come here, they’ll check out the historic sights, maybe they’ll talk a motorcoach to Holland, eventually some of them will go to Grand Rapids and a place like Meijer Gardens. They want to see different things that they can’t just see anywhere.”

Larsen said the added business downtown especially helps the city’s museums.

“There’s a lot of activity that takes place in our community when the passengers are in town and the crew as well,” Larsen said. “They enjoy exploring the downtown as well as the historic and the cultural sites.”

New customs facilities in Duluth and Cleveland are making things run smoother for passengers. They join existing ones in Detroit and Sault Ste. Marie. Lorenz said it will help reduce wait times, which could run for hours in the past.

“If you build it, they will come,” Lorenz said. “If you make it easier for them to come, they will come as well.”

Lorenz said the improvements will make it easier for cruise ships to operate in the area.

“The easier you make it, the more likely it is they’re going to offer more ship opportunities and more cruise ship will come into the area,” Lorenz said.

Their season runs from early April to late October. Prices range depending on the duration and route of the trip, but they do cost thousands of dollars. They have nine ships operating in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence, each with their own unique routes, stopping in places like Mackinac Island, Holland and Muskegon.

“People are rediscovering our community,” Larsen said about Muskegon. “Maybe they didn’t realize how much we had here to offer. Now we’re bringing a different group of people from the east coast, west coast, the southern states and they’re reminding us how special Muskegon really is.”