Sunday, October 24, 2010

Savannah As A Cruise Port?

After eyeing the success of Charleston, SC as a port of call and homeport, television stations in Georgia, such as WRDW here in Augusta, are reporting the possibility that Savannah could become a cruising homeport as well. Pictured here is Carnival Fantasy docking in Charleston.

The city of Savannah awarded a $129,500 contract to the consulting firm BEA Architects of Miami to do a market study about Savannah's potential to be a homeport or a port of call for cruise ships and two of their consultants have concluded that Savannah is well positioned to take advantage of growth in the cruise ship industry. After BEA's Bruno Ramos and Charles Towsley offered the assessment to a Savannah task force, Alderman Tony Thomas told the Savannah Morning News, "I think everyone left pretty excited." He feels the study will be a blueprint for building a cruise ship business in Savannah, but he might want to curb that enthusiasm.

After many years of being a port of call on various cruise ship itineraries and acting as a seasonal homeport, Charleston, SC, landed a deal to homeport Carnival Cruise Lines' Carnival Fantasy year-round. The ship offers 5-, 6-, and 7-day cruises to the Bahamas and Key West, FL, as well as seasonal voyages to Bermuda beginning next year. Officials estimate it brings in $70 million annually in spending. Although a similar deal would be great for the economy in Savannah, and afford an even closer drive-to embarkation port for Georgians and residents of other southeastern states, it's not as easy as it might seem to become a homeport. Savannah is situated between Jacksonville, FL and Charleston, SC, both successful embarkation ports. With Mobile, AL similarly well established, and not that far from Georgia, there's a lot of competition for the very few "pathfinder" ships available to new ports. Additionally, cruise lines don't currently have many new ships on order that will end up in the Bahamas/Caribbean, prime itinerary targets for a Savannah port.

Savannah's task force should look to Mobile for advice. It took years of work before Mobile landed their first cruise ship and it then it took more years of lobbying before the Alabama city got a bigger and newer vessel to homeport there. The cruise industry isn't much different than any other when it comes to supply and demand. There is a beautiful new port facility nearly idle in Norfolk, VA. My advice to the Savannah task force would be to work on becoming a port of call first. Homeporting may come later; however, like Norfolk's experience, you can't count on ships staying. They go where they can make the most money. Just like any other industry.

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