Galveston wants more of the cruise pie and the economic benefits that ensue. To tap the potential of more cruise business, the Port of Galveston and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which is responsible for the Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau operations, recently formed a task force to increase the destination’s vibe for both cruise lines and consumers.
By mid-November, expect to see massive new signs on the exterior walls of Cruise Terminals 1 and 2 at the Port of Galveston. The signs will have destination maps that will help guide visitors to local attractions. Six more signs will be added in January. Smart phone users can access a code on the signs that will link them to a GPS system so they can find their way to the sites.
It’s no surprise Galveston is salivating over the economics of more cruise business. Galveston served 655,000 cruise line passengers and crew members during 2011, about 3 percent of all passenger and crew visits in the United States, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Those visits produced an estimated $45.2 million in passenger and crew onshore spending, or nearly $69 per person per visit to Galveston. Last year, the Port of Galveston had a 5.5% increase in passenger embarkations.
Growth for Winter 2012-2013
Carnival Cruise Lines (www.goccl.com) is the largest and only year-round cruise line operating from Galveston and carries over 450,000 guests annually from the port. The line has steadily increasing its capacity including the launch of the 3,690-passenger Carnival Magic in 2011; that ship remains the port’s largest in terms of passenger berths.
Carnival Triumph also operates four- and five-night cruises; it welcomes many first-time cruisers and many people who drive to reach their cruise embarkation port.
“Galveston has been an important homeport for Carnival for many years,” says Terry Thornton, Carnival’s senior vice president of revenue management and deployment. “Galveston offers many unique advantages including access to large and attractive drive markets, availability of significant low cost airlift from many major cities and a strong local tourism appeal and attractions.”
Thornton also cited good port terminal facilities that provide cruisers with a favorable experience. The port has invested more than $65 million in its cruise facilities since 2000. He likes the port’s operational efficiencies as well.
From one agency’s perspective, “Galveston has very attractive fares that appeal to the drive market of Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana,” notes Amber Blecker, owner, CruiseOne, Aurora, CO. “It has a huge drive market which loves the convenience.”
However, Blecker also adds, “I do sell to Colorado clients and even East Coast and West Coast passengers due to good air into Houston,” which is 50 miles from Galveston.
It's possible for West Coast cruisers to fly in the same day as the cruise departure, something often not possible if they opt for an East Coast sailing. Clients can leave San Francisco or Los Angeles early in the morning and arrive in time for the start of boarding.
Stewart Chiron, @CruiseGuy on Twitter and www.cruiseguy.com, says "Galveston has experienced a bit of a resurgence in cruise ships for the 2012-2013 season. Disney Cruise Line, a first timer from the port, recently began sailing to the Caribbean and Princess Cruises is going for a second round."
Disney Cruise Line (www.disneytravelagents.com) just began winter season sailings with Disney Magic. Alternatively, in late 2013 and early 2014, Disney Wonder will sail from Galveston; one new itinerary will feature a new port of call, Falmouth, Jamaica. The premium line’s arrival for at least a two-year run is expected to create a minimum of $2.4 million in gross revenue for the Port of Galveston.
Also sailing from Galveston this winter season is Princess Cruises (www.princess.com), which has returned after an absence of five years. The 3,070-passenger Crown Princess is the largest Princess has ever positioned in the port city.
Royal Caribbean International (www.cruisingpower.com) also sails from Galveston with Mariner of the Seas for the 2012-2013 winter season, and then, alternatively, with Navigator of the Seas later in 2013. Other ships utilize Galveston, TX, as a port of call.
"Eighty percent of the people that sail from Galveston typically live in Texas.. and there's a lot of new capacity in the marketplace," said Chiron. But is there too much capacity?
"Disney had struggled earlier this fall with lower than anticipated prices which necessitated them to offer 'kids cruise free' promotions," Chiron noted. "It more than likely stemmed from awareness issues but pricing remains lower than the premium they usually command."
He also said that Galveston, like other Gulf of Mexico ports, is typically unable to offer sailings to the eastern Caribbean. "So western Caribbean ports can become stale to Texans and others interested in variety and newer ships," Chiron said.
Beaches, Historic Homes and More
From a destination perspective, Galveston is appealing due to the lovely, historic and fun atmosphere on the island," according to Blecker. Local attractions, beaches and restaurants are close, and the Strand Historical District in downtown Galveston has one of the largest selections of 19th-century buildings anywhere in the U.S.
What’s new this winter season? If you’re clients are visiting Galveston on a cruise in late 2012, “Passport to Holiday Magic” is a new two-month celebration of more than 1,000 holiday events. Visitors download the passport (www.galveston.com/holidaymagic/passport.pdf) and get it stamped at five or more participating holiday events and attractions through Jan. 1 to become eligible for weekly give-a-way drawings including chances to win a Disney Magic cruise for four.
Galveston is also known for its Victorian Christmas festivities with the “Dickens on the Strand” festival on Dec. 1-2; the East End Victorian Christmas Homes Tour; and Holiday Tours at Moody Mansion.
Other options? BlogGalveston.com did a robust write-up earlier this year about 52 things to do in Galveston at http://blog.galveston.com/what-to-do/52-things-to-do-this-year-in-galveston. Or, if your clients love street art, they might check out all the unique sculptures, murals and other artistic creations to view on their own self-guided tour: www.galveston.com/publicarttour.
For railroad buffs, the local Galveston Railroad Museum was recently rededicated. Check out this story in the Galveston Daily News: http://galvestondailynews.com/story/361194.
For more information on Galveston, visit www.galveston.com or for the Port of Galveston, visit www.portofgalveston.com.
From an agency perspective, what's your "take" on the rise of Galveston as a cruise home port? Is it good for your business? What's the draw for your clients? Let us know your thoughts.