New Ports Attracted to Cruise Business

As the cruise industry continues to grow, U.S. ports are lining up for its business and the lucrative cruise line and passenger dollars that come with it.

The economic impact on ports and their cities is a significant one according to a recent study titled "Measuring and Understanding the Cruise Ship Industry'' conducted by Philip Cartner & Company of Alexandria, VA. The study estimates cruise passengers spend an average of $225 per person per day while in the embarkation/debarkation area. An average stay was a day and a half, according to the study.

Based on this study, the impact on, for example, Miami last year would be over $880 million in passenger dollars expended in the city. Add to this the figure of $816.9 million the port claims cruise lines alone spent last year on operations including port taxes, ship supplies and docking charges, and the overall economic impact on Miami from the cruise industry approached $2 billion last year.

Large, established cruise ports such as Miami, San Juan, Everglades, Canaveral and Tampa, all constantly expanding, will be natural choices for new lines or ships. But other less-known, cargo-oriented ports are also hoping to capitalize on the burgeoning industry and many of them have formed task forces for this purpose.

Gulfport, Mississippi

The Mississippi State Port Authority at Gulfport has formed such a task force to attract cruise lines and has made "good progress" according to Rick Tubertim, assistant to the port's executive director. He said there has been talk for many years about attracting cruise dollars to the port, but over the last twelve months the talk has turned into action in response to the worth of the cruise industry. The task force is comprised of port, tourism and chamber of commerce officials who have been talking to several lines. Without mentioning specific lines, Tubertini said the response has been good, but no commitments have been made.

Gulfport gets no cruise ship calls, but is situated about 60 miles east of New Orleans in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico and could homeport vessels operating either canal or Mexico cruises. According to Tubertini, a 10,000 square-foot warehouse adjacent to a cargo berth could be easily converted into a passenger terminal. There is a seven-acre parking lot in the vicinity and the Greater Gulfport Biloxi Airport is only three miles away.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The Port of New Orleans is in a similar geographical position and has had cruise ship calls and sailings from, among others, Bermuda Star Line and Sun Lines. Smaller ships like those of American Cruise Lines and Delta Queen Steamboat Company sail up the Mississippi regularly from an up-river dock affiliated with the port, but officials would like to see more large ships take advantage of its deep-water facilities.

According to Assistant Executive Port Director Capt. H.G. Jaffray, the port, state and city have organized a cruise ship task force headed by him that will invite 20 cruise line executives for a Visitation of its facilities in late October. The executives will be flown in, shown the port and directed to meetings with airline reps. Joffray said seven-day cruises to Cozumel and Grand Cayman are the most likely types of cruises feasible for the port, but added that if legislation can be passed relating to gambling. the port would welcome cruises to nowhere also.

Galveston, Texas

The Port of Galveston, approximately 300 miles west of New Orleans, is also in the geographic position to do the same types of cruises as the other Gulf ports and has formed a "Cruise Ship Terminal Commission," according to the commission's head, Andrew Monsour.

Monsour said he and the commission are working toward getting the money to build a cruise passenger terminal among the port's cargo berths, which have already accommodated the Cunard Princess in the past. He also said he had contacted ten cruise lines and received promising responses, but would not mention the names of the lines.

Advantages to Galveston's location include proximity to the downtown area and historic district, a trolley car system and buses that run from the port to a recreation area, and the Houston Hobby Airport is only 45 minutes away.

Savannah, Georgia

Such task forces exist over on the East Coast also. The Port of Savannah, GA has formed a task force headed by David Guernsey, director of the "Ships of the Sea Museum" nearby. For ten months, his group has been analyzing how to attract more cruise business to the port, which is a seasonal homeport and port of call for American Cruise Lines, and also gets calls from Ocean Cruise Lines' Ocean Princess and Cunard/NAC's Vistafjord. Port officials said they would like to see the port emerge as a major competitor in the cruise ship industry.

Savannah is already one of the busiest cargo ports on the East Coast, but like many other ports, has no passenger terminal yet. The port is investing $13.9 million to widen its harbor channel from 400 feet to 500 feet. A turning basin exists for large ships. At approximately 500 miles from the Bahamas, Savannah could be a homeport for ships doing seven-day cruises to those islands. Bermuda may also be a possibility, but the island is almost 1,000 miles away, leaving passengers on a seven-day cruise with little time at the destination.

Jacksonville, Florida

Just over a hundred miles south of Savannah, The Port of Jacksonville has its eye on attracting cruise ships. Although no formal body exists to market the port to lines, preliminary overtures last year led to port calls by the Ocean Princess and the Canada Star last spring, according to a port spokesman.

Facilities for deep-water vessels arc located at the Blount Island Terminal just off the coast of the city. The container port lacks a passenger terminal, but the aforementioned ships used the facility without problems and passengers were bused to St. Augustine, the oldest settlement in the U.S., for sightseeing, the spokesman said.

Just like Savannah, seven-day cruises to the Bahamas would be a possibility, and according to the spokesman, the market in the Jacksonville area has become attractive because of the influx of retirees to the area. "The changing demographics make this area a potential cruise port. The captain of the Canada Star was also pleased with our facilities and the approach to the harbor," said the spokesman. "We are open to discussion about vessels coming here," he said. The Canada Star will return next year, the spokesman added.

According to sources, among other new ports and regions seeking cruise business are the 1,000 Islands region on the St. Lawrence River, Pensacola, Fla.; and Portland, Or.

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