Two small towns, two takes on attracting cruise ships

Two small towns, two takes on attracting cruise ships

In Bar Harbor, Maine, an advisory panel recently recommended
against building a pier for cruise ships amid concerns about congestion,
pollution and preserving the waterfront for other uses.

Meanwhile, in the Texas resort town of South Padre Island,
the city council approved spending $100,000 on a campaign to attract cruise
ships.

The two developments demonstrate the range of attitudes
toward the cruise industry in small-town America.

Many towns are eager to use the revenue that cruise ships
bring to offset municipal taxes and pay for services. But some are reluctant to
bring large ships and big passenger populations into their midst.

“We need a booming economy to have the services that a
lot of people want, but they don’t like the people that come along with that,”
said Paul Paradis, a hardware store owner and chairman of the town council in
Bar Harbor.

Both Bar Harbor and South Padre Island have small permanent
populations — 5,348 and 2,816, respectively. Both swell with visitors in the
summer. But Bar Harbor has an established cruise business.

This year, Bar Harbor expects calls from 163 cruise ships
bringing about 180,000 visitors between April and November. Since 2007, the
town has been studying how and whether to expand that number.

In 2012, prompted by the 2009 discontinuation of ferry
service to Nova Scotia, the town commissioned a cruise marketing study from
Bermello Ajamil & Partners. Among the study’s conclusions: the trend toward
larger ships in the Canada/New England market would continue, and those ships
likely will not call at ports that lack piers.

Bar Harbor is Maine’s busiest cruise port, offering both a
quaint New England town experience and access to Acadia National Park. All but
the smallest cruise ships anchor offshore and tender passengers. But cruise
ships have to skip calls sometimes because high winds prohibit tendering.

Building a deep-water pier at the site of the disused ferry
terminal would cost between $17.7 million and $21.3 million, the study said.
Voters approved a zoning change for the terminal last year, but when the
advisory panel’s report came out in mid-November, it recommended the ferry site
become a boat marina.

In a reference to the Bermello Ajamil study, the report said
most of the 40-member advisory panel was comfortable with the current level of
passengers. “There didn’t seem to be an appetite for the much larger
visitation described in the consultant’s report,” it said.

In South Padre Island, there’s no ambivalence about
attracting cruisers, said city manager Susan Guthrie. The town is packed each
summer, but business is slow during the winter, despite a mild climate.

Guthrie said a new mayor wants to smooth out the
seasonality. The town hired a consortium of four firms — MarketScope Global,
IDEA, Cruise & Port Advisors and NewmanPR — to promote the destination to
cruise lines.

The island has a beautiful beach, watersports, turtle- and
bird-watching, sport fishing, a waterpark and more. Even one ship a week would
yield an estimated $19 million economic impact, Guthrie said.

As for crowding, Guthrie said, “Because our regular
season is so opposite cruising season, when you talk about a ship disembarking
3,000 people, I mean 3,000 people is nothing to this community. On weekends in
July, we’ll get 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 people at a time. I think it’s going to
be a very positive thing.”

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