Thursday, December 12, 2013
By Jessica Hall firstname.lastname@example.org
Maine's cruise ship season is drawing to a close after bringing more than 200,000 people to the state, setting a record in Bar Harbor for the most ships visiting in a year, and marking the first time Maine fishermen provided lobster directly to cruise lines.
The Carnival Glory, the first cruise ship of Portland’s 2012 season, arrives June 5, bringing several thousand visitors. The most popular time for cruises is September and October.
Press Herald file photo by John Ewing
Anecdotally, retailers say the influx of cruise ship passengers, especially in the fall, has been good for business this year.
Retailers and restaurants differ on how much those passengers actually spend on shore, but many said the fall "leaf peeper" cruises help fill the lag time between the summer tourism season and the holiday shopping season.
The cruise season starts on June 1, but the most popular time for cruises is September and October.
"That it's right after summer makes it an extension of the season. There would normally be a lull between the summer and the holidays, but now there's consistent flow of traffic," said Rania Levine, manager of Treehouse Toys on Exchange Street in Portland.
Other retailers said tourists' purchases vary by ship. European visitors tend to be bigger spenders and want unique merchandise, said Lynne Thomas-Harrison, a sales associate at the Tavecchia clothing retailer on Exchange Street.
"We're glad to have the cruise ships. ... There's so much Internet shopping these days. It's nice to have a new wave of visitors to the store," said Thomas-Harrison.
While some cruise passengers spend their day shopping, others take excursions ranging from shopping in Freeport to working a lobster boat to taking Segway tours around town.
DiMillo's on the Water said it gets a huge surge in business when a cruise ship is in Portland.
"We can double our head count at lunch on the days a cruise ship is in town," said Johnny DiMillo, one of the owners. "It's night and day how beneficial it is."
DiMillo's can have a lunch crowd of 400 to 500 on a cruise day, compared with its normal crowd of 250, DiMillo said. The restaurant schedules one-third more workers to handle the cruise crowds.
"Some ships have a difference in the guest demographics -- some ships have passengers with more disposable income. But there hasn't been a cruise day that wasn't important to our business," DiMillo said.
Some businesses hope the relationships forged this season will yield benefits in the future.
Ready Seafood Co. of Portland supplied Celebrity Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Lines with lobster during a season when lobster prices plummeted to the lowest level in about 30 years and new demand was needed.
"We sold them a good amount of live lobster, but the trophy at the end of the day is maintaining that relationship," said John Ready, co-owner of Ready Seafood.
Ready said his company supplied weekly shipments of lobster to the cruise lines, but couldn't estimate the total tonnage.
The Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound in Hancock County sold lobster to Holland America when the cruise line visited Bar Harbor.
Ready said his company will attend the cruise industry convention in Florida next month to maintain relationships established this year and make new connections with other cruise lines to show them that Maine has more to offer than lobster, such other seafood and local produce, Ready said.
"Next year, it could be other local suppliers working with the cruise lines. But you need pilot programs. We were the guinea pigs. Hopefully, it will open to door for others," Ready said.
The exact economic impact of the cruise industry is difficult to quantify because Portland and other Maine ports don't track passengers' spending.
A study commissioned by the Cruise Line International Association said Maine drew about $45 million in direct spending from the cruise industry last year, a nearly 25 percent increase over 2010. The industry generated 795 jobs in Maine in 2011, up 15 percent from 2010, and wages totaling $25 million, according to the study.
(Continued on page 2)