July 23, 2013

Portland's cruise industry growing

The city expects fewer ships this year but more visitors, mirroring a trend in the industry.

By Jessica Hall jhall@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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In this September 2012 file photo, a Segway tour passes in front of the Carnival Glory cruise ship in Portland. The city is seeing an increase in cruise-ship visitors in 2013.

John Patriquin/Staff Photographer

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The Carnival Glory towers over the Portland waterfront Monday in this view from the corner of Franklin and Congress streets. The ship has a capacity of 2,984 passengers and a crew of 1,150, according to Carnival Cruise Lines.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Passengers on board the Triumph reported enduring cold food and unsanitary conditions for the four days before the ship was towed to port. The cruise line saw its stock drop before the company replaced its chief executive officer last month.

"It reminds people that it could be awhile before you get back to land," said Matthew Jacob, a director of ITG Investment Research. "We found that Carnival had to lower summer fares by about 20 percent."

This year's cruise problems, however, were minor compared with last year's capsizing of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy that resulted in 32 deaths. That incident had a temporary dampening effect across the entire industry, analysts said. The Costa Concordia's parent company is Carnival Cruise Lines.

"Last year, every cruise line saw a negative effect. But the Costa Concordia was significantly more impactful with a lot of fatalities," Jacob said. He said that cruising still remains relatively safe.

"Before the Concordia, the last big incident for the industry was the Titanic," he said.

Other negative news for the industry in the past year ranged from broad outbreaks of norovirus, which can cause diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, to the disappearance of a husband during a Mediterranean honeymoon cruise. In February, 22 passengers of the Carnival Splendor were robbed at gunpoint in Mexico.

But none of these reports stopped Lee Barile of New Jersey, who said she decided to go on a cruise for vacation because she saw it as the most economical and relaxing way to travel.

"The stories of illnesses or crime -- that is what sells stories. It's probably safer than other modes of travel," Barile said.

By bringing ships to small ports such as Portland, the industry can try to attract more consumers by making it easier for them to cruise near home without having to travel long distances just to get to a ship, said Katz.

"The cruise industry is a niche product. There has to be newer ships with a lot more amenities to try to grab a new segment of the population," Jacob said.

The industry's North America cruise line passengers are expected to rise to 17.6 million this year, up from 17.2 million last year, according to the Cruise Line International Association.

There are few reliable statistics on illnesses that occur on cruise ships, since what would be a gastrointestinal disease may be mistaken by some passengers as just seasickness, analysts said.

Cruise ships participating in the vessel sanitation program are required to report the total number of gastrointestinal illness cases evaluated by the medical staff before the ship arrives at a U.S. port when sailing from a foreign port. A separate notification is required when the gastrointestinal illness count exceeds 2 percent of the total number of passengers or crew on board, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

About 10.3 million passengers embarked on a cruise ship from a U.S. port in 2012. There were 16 norovirus outbreaks reported to the CDC, involving a total of 2,791 ill passengers, according to the CDC website. That compares with about 20 million norovirus cases in any typical year in the United States, according to the CDC.

Such illnesses are more prone to breaking out in areas where many people share an enclosed space and the same air, which can occur on land as well as at sea. In 2011, the Aria Resort & Casino in Las Vegas had an outbreak of Legionnaire's disease, a sometimes deadly form of pneumonia.

"Think of any enclosed ventilation system," Katz said. "There's a potential for problems."

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at jhall@pressherald.com 

Correction: This story was revised at 11:51 a.m., July 23, 2013, to give the correct first name for Matthew Jacob, a director of ITG Investment Research.

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Additional Photos

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Carnival Glory passenger Bobby Payne, of Florida, says he’s taken four or five cruises and never had a problem.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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