Astoria’s cruise business slumps

Norw Pearl 2A violent Mexico and a pricey Alaska meant fewer cruise ships on the West Coast this year, and a subsequent slump in business for the Port of Astoria.

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Norw Pearl 2
Norw S and P double

The double whammy of Mexico’s continuing drug-related violence scaring off tourists and cruise lines subsequently moving their ships to other parts of the world, along with consumers backing off pricey Alaska cruising and that state’s passenger tax has resulted in the Port of Astoria losing almost half of its cruise ship business this year.

In 2011, 15 cruise ships made a port call in Astoria; 19 were scheduled but four cancelled because of bad weather. This year, only 10 ships stopped at the port. This year’s numbers are similar to 2010, when nine ships stopped in Astoria.

Astoria is a repositioning port. In May, the ships repositioned out of warm waters into cold waters and that’s when they pass Astoria. “We see them in the spring, and then in the fall when they reposition back down,” says Connor “Just like the whales. Our season is very short. April/May and then August-September-October.”

Bruce Connor, the port’s director of marketing, says that when cruise lines made their business projections in 2010 for 2011-2012, “Mexico was considered an unsafe destination for the cruise client. That resulted in the ships being taken out of this market, which meant they were not going to Alaska. So we lost them repositioning in Astoria. Also, the Alaska market was soft. Sales were down a bit, but nothing like Mexico. Mexico just dropped through the floor.”

Connor adds that the economy in California was bad then also, and it so cruise lines moved their ships to other regions, such as the Mediterranean. Cruise lines were also not fond of Alaska’s head tax, but he says that has been reduced from $65 per person to $40. Oregon does not levy a per-passenger charge.

The reduced cruise ship traffic meant fewer passengers getting off the boats (the average is 2,000 passengers per boat) to shop, eat, use services and visit tourist attractions in Astoria and surrounding Clatsop County. Connor estimates that each passenger spends on average $75 when they leave the ship. It also meant that the port’s revenue dropped about $10,000 from last year.

In the seesaw fashion of the past few years, the port is expecting a record 22 or more ships in 2013. “The popularity of Alaska and Mexico is coming back,” Connor says. “The projection for California is that it will be better. Cruise lines predict the West Coast will be booming in 2014, so they want to get their ships here early.”

Celebrity Cruise’s 1,800-passenger Celebrity Solstice will make a port of call for the first time. When it does, the Clatsop Cruise Hosts will be ready. The 150 volunteers are dedicated to welcoming the cruise passengers, and providing tips and information on visiting Astoria and surrounding towns.

Robin Doussard is editor-in-chief of Oregon Business.