For those 80 hungry breakfasters who came to the Smiths Falls’ Chamber of Commerce’s early morning meeting on June 27, not only did they get a good meal, they got an eyeful in a presentation on Le Boat.
Expect a pre-launch of Le Boat in Smiths Falls in August this year with an official launch in September; the first customer departure is slated for May 18, 2018. Sixteen boats are expected to start cruising the Rideau system and canals in the summer of 2018, with possibly as many as 32 over the next five years. The North American headquarters is moving from Florida to the old Lockmaster’s House on Jasper Avenue in the middle of town and, all in all, $16 million is being earmarked for the venture.
All of this has been achieved in two years and it all comes down to the “willingness to succeed” on the part of Le Boat, the various levels of government involved, and the Town of Smiths Falls, said Cheryl Brown, managing director of Le Boat for over 20 years. “A lot is coming your way,” she continued. “It’s a win/win situation.”
Cyril Cooper, manager of economic development with the Town of Smiths Falls, agreed. In his 22 years in the business, he said this is the first time he’s seen all three levels of government work so closely together. He described what will happen: the expectation is spending of $1,200 per day per boat, a new docking system in Victoria Basin, 10 new jobs and 37 indirect jobs like restaurants, hotels, car rentals, as well as international exposure for Smiths Falls.
Brown spoke to the global customer base. People from all over the world will visit with a start and finish point (for the moment) in Smiths Falls and an expected customer stay of two nights.
The best part of Le Boat experience, Brown said, is the making of memories. No getting off a huge cruise ship with 100 other passengers and following a tour guide to various pre-arranged locations around a town or city. Le Boat renters can go where they want, see what they want, experience the byways and side roads, take part in community events along the way.
The boats range from deluxe to budget, according to their website, but only the luxury boats will be coming to the Rideau. Brown, much to her marketers’ dismay, says the boats are as easy as driving bumper cars and have a few of the same accessories — lots of fenders and balloons to prevent crashes, dents and scrapes. Gears are “accelerate, reverse and turn,” there is a 30-minute instruction session with a trip through the first lock and then they’re good to go. Brown added at a question session that “clients will only be allowed to take the boats if the local team is happy” with their understanding and handling of the boat. Maps and charts will be available to indicate reefs and hidden shoals.
Darryl Bushaway, operations director of Le Boat, said Ireland, Germany and Holland have similar waterways and many of the clients will be experienced.
There are still a few hiccups: other Le Boat locations open from March to October. Along the Rideau, a good deal of the time there is ice on the lake in March. And traditionally, locks haven’t been open for operation along the Rideau until the May long weekend (this will have to be negotiated with Parks Canada). Canada will have a cold “low season” said Brown but wasn’t too deterred by that as so does Germany. Boats will have to be taken out of the water and stored for the winter season. Brown calls this a “new challenge” for the company as it has never had to do this before with any of its other cruise vacations.
Brown’s enthusiasm was acknowledged by the business people of Smiths Falls by their after-breakfast applause.