As of March 1, Southern Elegance Cruise Lines began operating year-round from Gulfport, Mississippi. The company operates the 450-passenger Southern Elegance on one-day cruises to nowhere which had been operating out of Panama City, Florida during the summer season and Port Manatee, Florida during the 1989 winter season.
"We had been interested for some time in finding an annual market. When an opening became available in Gulfport we decided to make the move," said Elizabeth Fogg, Marketing Director of Southern Elegance. Fogg noted that operating out of one market will cut down the company's overhead greatly.
Space became available when Pride Cruise Lines moved the Pride of Mississippi from Gulfport to Galveston, Texas last December. Sources at Pride said that part of the reasoning for their move was that the 1,190 passenger Pride of Mississippi was larger than needed for the Gulfport market. Southern Elegance, on the other hand, has a capacity which is less than half that amount.
Southern Elegance renovated the 2,000-ton, 251-foot ship in 1986 and began operations that year. There are 10 cruises offered weekly during the off season and 12 in-season, from May until September. Cruises cost $49 and $59 per person.
According to Fogg, Gulfport is a strong one day cruise market. She said there are three large cities within driving distance: Jackson, Mobile and New Orleans. In addition, Southern Elegance plans to draw on markets in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and Memphis. Fogg said that in the past they had actively marketed joint cruise/golf/accommodations packages and that they plan to pursue similar packages in Gulfport.
Fogg said that newspaper advertising is their strongest marketing vehicle. In addition, the company will continue its "light buys" in radio and television along with outdoor advertisements.
In the past, 50 percent of Southern Elegance's business in Port Manatee was generated by travel agents, while seven percent came from agents during their Panama City season. Fogg said that while Panama City tended to attract tourists who booked directly and drove to the ship, Port Manatee drew clients who preferred to book through agents since they were provided transportation to the ship. She expects about 30 percent of their clients in Gulfport to book through agents.
Southern Elegance's estimated economic impact on Gulfport and the surrounding area is $55 million annually, in addition to generating 120 jobs.