July 29 2009 | Latest NewsCruise industry contributed $163 million to economy in 2008
Posted by Jaquetta White, The Times-Picayune July 29, 2009 9:21AM
The number of passengers embarking on a cruise from the Port of New Orleans plummeted in 2008 after making a significant gain post-Katrina.
Last year, 179,000 people embarked on cruises from the Port of New Orleans, down about 30.6 percent from the 258,000 who sailed from the port in 2007, according to a study commissioned by the Cruise Lines International Association, or CLIA, and released Wednesday.
Ships are still leaving the port at or near capacity, but the loss of Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas and an oil spill that last year diverted the Carnival Fantasy away from the city for weeks were major contributors in the decline, said Robert Jumonville, director of cruise operations for the Port of New Orleans. The association's study points to less interest in Caribbean cruising and more interest in European cruising as a factor in the descent of Gulf of Mexico cruise points that sail almost exclusively to the Caribbean.
The North American cruise industry contributed $163 million in direct spending to the Louisiana economy in 2008 and generated 3,168 jobs paying $121 million in income. Those figures are down from the $172 million in direct spending, 3,700 jobs and $136 million in income attributed to the industry in 2007.
"(New Orleans) remains a top notch destination for the cruise industry," said Bob Sharak, executive vice president of CLIA. "I think New Orleans has a very bright future."
The past year, however, was not kind to the local cruise market, which is still struggling to rebound after Hurricane Katrina. Four ships were homeported in the city before Katrina and New Orleans was ranked ninth among U.S. destination ports for passenger embarkations. The city has since fallen to 15th place and has just two homeported ships, the Norwegian Spirit and the Carnival Fantasy, which will be replaced by the Triumph later this year.
The Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas pulled out of New Orleans in April 2007, after returning for just one season after Katrina. The vessel moved to Tampa where it sails basically the same Western Caribbean route it sailed in New Orleans.
"We lost a ship," Jumonville said. "That made our numbers go down."
The local numbers were also pulled down by Carnival's decision to divert nine of the Fantasy's voyages from New Orleans to Mobile after an oil spill on July 23 closed the lower Mississippi River and disrupted vessel traffic, Jumonville said.
New Orleans isn't alone in its year-over-year decline. Nationwide, the number of Americans choosing to cruise fell, though the number of people cruising worldwide grew 4 percent in 2008 to 13 million. Total spending in the U.S. rose 2 percent to $19 billion, a negligible jump compared with previous years.
"The cruise industry performed well in 2008, under decidedly difficult circumstances," Shirak said.
The industry was hardest hit in the second half of the year as the economy began to weaken. The American cruise market, specifically places that offer cruises to the Caribbean and Bahamas, has also weakened as the European market has grown.
European cruises accounted for 25.9 percent of total cruises in 2008, up from 24 percent in 2007, while Caribbean cruises made up 33.5 percent in 2008, down from 35.8 percent a year earlier.
Continued growth in that direction would spell more bad news for the local port. But Jumonville says he believes the pendulum is beginning to shift back in the port's direction.
"The demand for ships in Europe has lessened recently," Jumonville said. "We're in talks with about five different cruise lines."
Jumonville said one of them could make a commitment to bring a new ship to the port "any day now."
Jaquetta White can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 504.826.3494.