Cruise Terminal For Sale: No Ships But Great Fishing

For cities and towns that want to be a home port for cruise ships, it would make sense to be set up to handle them first. Ensuring that today’s giant ships can dock, that there will be shore-side services available and figuring out the logistics of it all are checklist items one might consider mandatory. But there’s a big difference between being “ready” and having a $100 million cruise terminal sitting empty with no ships scheduled to call.

That seems to be right where Houston Texas is today; all dressed up and with no place to go as the would-be cruise port can’t find cruise lines that want to sail from their bright, shiny terminal.

“I’m convinced that no cruise line is going to come. They may as well forget about using it as a cruise terminal,” Texas Judge Ed Emmett told ABCNews.

Worse yet, the losses keep growing. In the last year, the port has spent another $4.7 million just maintaining the cruise terminal. The ABCNews report notes that some of the money was spent to improve the gangways for cruise passengers that may never use them.

Perhaps Houston was a bit too ambitious?

Maybe, maybe not. Business is great at the close-by Port of Galveston; in 2010 it reported its highest gross operating revenue since 1941. Making $7.3 million off revenue of $23.5 million is a pretty fair return.

So why are there no ships sailing from Houston?

Among other reasons, it takes ships much longer to reach international waters from Houston. Ships sailing from Galveston are out of U.S. waters in minutes. Sailing from Houston takes 2 hours longer to get out of U.S. waters – where cruise ship shops and casinos can open.

Flickr photo by notsogoodphotography

No, not every city can be a cruise port

It seems every large coastal city wants to be a cruise port, either as a place to visit or to be a home port where a ship operates from, and for good reason. Cruise ships can bring a lot of tourists and their dollars when they visit. At a time when local economies are recovering at best there is a lot of interest but not a lot of realistic expectations.

“The reality is they have as much chance to get a cruise ship to visit as they do in luring the Lakers from Los Angeles” says cruise industry expert Stewart Chiron CEO, speaking of a feasibility study done by Brownsville, Texas. “These results are based on the cow jumping over the moon, planets aligning and may also require peace on earth!” he added.

Savanna, Georgia also did a study that returned “better than expected” results with big numbers like up to 350,000 visitors by 2020 and a potential industry of $100 million a year reports the Savannah Morning News.

Not so fast says Chiron, cautioning leaders to be realistic. “I think Savannah is a wonderful city and know it would make a wonderful option, but there needs to be more than desire and their reasoning is way off.”

Cruise lines move cautiously when choosing ports, opting for those that can serve the most potential passengers and produce the best financial results. While the allure of a cruise port may be the stuff tourism dreams are made of, Chiron concludes the big question is “Where will the cruise lines be able to reap the highest yields?” adding “This ultimately may delay Savannah’s heartfelt desires.”

Flickr photo by taberandrew