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Hotels Crave Cruise Ships, But Are They Good for the City?

March 8, 2013 at 12:33 PM | by | ()

Next week we'll be debuting our HotelChatter 2013 Cruise Guide. It might seem like a funny time to release this as, to put it lightly, the cruise ship industry has been in the spotlight over the past year. And few flowers have been thrown on stage.

There have been some dramas. Costa Concordia sank off the coast of Italy. The disabled Carnival Triumph had its feces run down the walls. Food-related illness continues to be a problem. And now cities are starting to debate whether or not they should welcome ships, whether they do more harm than good. Charleston is having an internal debate about it currently, and it isn't pretty.

One resident described cruise ships as "sardine cans" that are "susceptible to horrific accidents that instantly can put thousands at risk for their lives.” Another saw the ships as a detriment to the city's ambiance. “I can’t believe they are doing this to Charleston,” she said. “I can hear the announcements from my house. And that black smoke. It just tumbles out of that smokestack. You should see the dust in my car.”

While a reasonable person could understand that side of the coin -- the resident's viewpoint -- we can't forget about the other side -- the business side. And also a strong consumer force that continues to love cruising.

San Francisco, for example, has been proactive and positive about attracting and recruiting cruise ships, at least in the media, seeing them as a necessary component not only to its economy, but its hotel scene as well.The city will open a new port in 2014 and signed an agreement with Princess Cruises to have them in town year round. According to reports, "the Grand Princess alone will bring an additional 130,000 cruise guests to San Francisco in 2013, giving the city a 65% boost in cruise guests."

So, if you're a hotel, don't those numbers make you happy? A bit giddy, even?

We bring this up because we think it's an interesting debate, one that will certainly continue to play out over the next few years -- especially if these major mishaps keep occurring. Obviously, we want to see hotel scenes improve, and we also see cruise ships as hotels at sea, but we're wondering if this is a slippery approach. Cities are spending money to try to make themselves more attractive for the ships, digging deeper channels and bigger ports to bring in more business. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't (Mobile, Alabama, spent over $20 million to bring in Carnival only to have them walk away). And, money aside, we've been to ports from which cruise ships have sucked up the culture (throw a dart at many a Caribbean island, for an example).

Our question this Friday is a bit of a head scratcher: Where do you stand? Is the cruise ship market worth the monetary, environmental, and cultural prices paid by the city? We happen to think so overall, and that's why you'll be seeing our 2013 Cruise Guide next week. Because as most good travelers know, the best time to travel is just after a drama. That's when everyone is on their Ps and Qs and quality is at its best.

[Photos: Kim Severson/Tampaport.com]

Archived Comments:

Isolated Facilities

NCLeo: That's the Port of Miami, looking from Downtown out to Miami Beach.

As a Fort Lauderdale resident, I know a thing or two about the impact that cruises can have on locals.  The best situation is one in which cruise passengers are isolated in one area of the city.  That's what happens in FLL.  The port is adjacent to the airport and most pre/post hotel stays happen in hotels in that area.  Because of this geographic isolation, 40,000+ cruise passengers can pass through the area every day with very limited impact on local residents.

That said, there are very real downsides to having a cruise port.  First, the airport is insane during mid-afternoon when the mega-ships return to port.  That's pretty easy to avoid, since departing flights during those times are usually very expensive.  Second, you have to get used to your tax dollars being spent on public facilities that you likely will never see.  For example, millions of tax dollars were spent on the Royal Caribbean terminal used exclusively for their mega-ships.  The only way I'll ever see how my money was spent there is if I buy a $1,000+ Royal Caribbean cruise.

As for the NIMBY in Charleston, I think she's being disingenuous.  The likelihood of a passenger finding themselves in a situation similar to the Carnival Triumph are tiny.  (In 2011, there were 2.8 million cruise passengers.  With a capacity of 2,800 passengers, that makes the chances of it happening to a individual roughly one-tenth of a percent.)