|Aerial view of Port Canaveral, FL along the Space Coast // Photo courtesy of Port Canaveral|
When it comes to his vision for his new post, Captain John W. Murray, the new CEO of Port Canaveral in central Florida, has one clear mission as he see its -- to make Port Canaveral the world's busiest cruise port. That title is currently held by PortMiami. Port Everglades in South Florida is also in the hunt.
"The only way you get to be number one and stay number one is that you have to be good at what you do," Murray told Travel Agent last week during a telephone interview.
He definitely brings a "business leader's eye" to the port management. Most recently, he served as president and CEO of Hapag-Lloyd USA, a major container shipping company based in Tampa. That operation has a sister brand, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises.
In selecting Murray as its new CEO, the Canaveral Port Authority commissioners cited his extensive maritime management experience as well as his knowledge of regulatory and environmental matters.
|John Murray, new CEO of Port Canaveral // Photo courtesy of Port Canaveral|
While Murray was targeted at the cargo side of the business with Hapag-Lloyd, he's eager to delve more deeply into the cruise side of the port's business. In fact, he firmly believes cruising should be Port Canaveral's top priority. "We want to be the top cruise port in the world," he told us.
First-hand cruise experience? Murray has sailed on Norwegian Cruise Line and quips that his roots at Port Canaveral actually go back to cruising with his kids on the Big Red Boat in the 1990s.
More importantly, he learned about cruising over the years through business relationships with top executives who later moved on to lead cruise companies, among them Michael Bayley, now president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, and Howard Frank, the former vice chairman of Carnival Corporation.
Earlier this month, Murray told Florida Today, a daily newspaper in east central Florida, that the port is Brevard County’s economic engine and that past leadership and staff have done a phenomenal job of putting it on the map.
“Now, it needs to go the next step, and bring in some new clients and new business and continued growth,” he told the newspaper. “To me, it seemed like an opportunity where I could jump in and bring some of that to fruition.”
Speaking frankly about competition between Florida's ports, Murray cited one asset the South Florida ports don’t have – lots of land to expand.
“The one thing in any port-related industry is that you have to have is land and the ability to grow,” he stressed. “Unlike the South Florida ports, we can get the bigger ships and add more terminal space."
Another strategic plus as he sees it? “We also have that cool city ‘to the left’ of us called Orlando, which really dovetails nicely with the cruise business.” He cited the draw of the Orlando theme parks and a 30-minute drive to Orlando International Airport as pluses for cruisers taking pre- and post-cruise stays. "That's what we hope to capitalize on," he said.
As for competition from Tampa, another central Florida port just across the state, Murray said ships sailing from Port Canaveral can easily reach the warm waters of the Bahamas on a three- or four-day cruise, while ships typically sailing from Tampa must head southward a greater distance to Cozumel. He also cited the height of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as a limitation for Tampa in gaining the newest cruise ships.
Carnival Sensation sailed away from Port Canaveral for its new home port at Miami last week. In turn, Carnival Cruise Line replaced that ship with the larger Carnival Victory, adding another 700 berths of capacity. "That's a sizable 'plus-up' for us there," he said.
Then in April, the Carnival Valor also will leave Port Canaveral; it will be replaced by the larger Carnival Magic, an increase of another 700 passengers. “Obviously, Carnival wouldn’t be putting these ships in here if they didn't think they had an attractive option for their ships," said Murray.
In May, the newly updated Majesty of the Seas will replace Enchantment of the Seas for Royal Caribbean International. In November, Oasis of the Seas will replace Freedom of the Seas. “With 1,800 more passengers, that’s pretty exciting,” noted Murray.
Port Canaveral also has worked with Royal Caribbean International to design and develop Cruise Terminal 1, a state-of-the-art terminal open for a little over a year. “Right now, we’re treating Freedom of the Seas as the test ship as we evolve into the next [bigger, Oasis-class] ship; it’s a first class terminal that’s highly automated.”
Then in November 2016, the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic will arrive to home port through April 2017. Disney Cruise Line also continues to put strong emphasis on the port -- and combination land-and-sea trips that couple a cruise with an Orlando theme park vacation.
For Murray, this year’s evolution into larger vessels and more customer choices is critical. “Even though we're managing the same number of ships, we're getting bigger ships," he said, alluding to that trend as a way to catapult the port into fast-paced growth.
|Terminal 8, Disney's terminal, is shown in the foreground; it's receiving a $2.5 million update. // Photo courtesy of Port Canaveral|
Refreshed facilities to serve cruise lines and their guests? Carnival will be soon at Terminal 5, which is now receiving the finishing touches on a $47.5 million update. The target opening is the first week of May.
“We’re working real hard to get that done,” Murray stressed. “It’s a complete ‘redo’ of the terminal. It's from the ground up. It’s quite exciting. So we'll have a brand new facility there.”
A modest $2.5 million update is also under way at Disney’s Terminal 8.
And in May, the port will start moving ships to Terminal 5, so that Terminal 10 can receive $33 million in enhancements to the terminal, as well as new traffic flow and new parking. “It’s a state of transition” with ships movements until all gets settled, he said.
Port Canaveral has been historically proactive in educating travel agents about its cruise operations. The port has a dedicated page on its Web site for agents and assists the trade with videos, promotions and education about port facilities and local tourism draws. Murray cited the importance of travel agents in helping agents sort out the differences in cruise products.
He also said the port will continue to tout its easy in-and-out access and parking for cruisers. That's because he sees the guest experience as all-important. “At the end of the day, it’s about filling the ships, satisfying customers and being a great venue,” says Murray. "We want to be the best."