San Diego Business Journal

Cruise Ships, Passengers Pump Almost $250M Into Economy
Supporters Urge Upgrading Of the B Street Terminal

BY CONNIE LEWIS

In 2004, the Unified Port of San Diego will see about 200 cruise ships come calling, 130 of which will call it home.

The ships belonging to a variety of cruise lines including Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Celebrity, World Caribbean, and Carnival, are expected to carry a total of half a million passengers and generate about $248 million in direct spending that will benefit the local economy.

That estimate includes what cruise lines will spend to acquire food, goods and services from local vendors, as well as what passengers will spend to visit local shops and attractions and eat in local restaurants while in port. It also takes into account what the seafaring tourists will pay to stay in local hotels before and after they board home-ported ships.

"Of the ports in California, we have the second highest amount of cruise line business," said Rita Vandergaw, the Port agency's spokeswoman. "L.A. has more. But we're gaining. They have year-round home- port business, and we do not have that.

"But we're unique in that we are one of the few ports that have both home-port and port-of-call business."

And while some ships that come calling are home-ported in Los Angeles, the Unified Port of San Diego is quite happy to have that business.

"My goal is to retain our market share," Vandergaw said. "We have approximately 33 percent of the West Coast cruise business and the cruise lines continue to add ships every year, so if we can just keep that percentage we'll be doing well."

The Port District went from 130 cruise ship calls in 1992 to 16 in 1996 due to a gaming law that barred gambling near the California coastline. The law was changed in 1997 and the Port District has worked hard to build that business back up, Vandergaw added.

But it could do much better if the B Street Cruise Ship Terminal was improved or rebuilt to accommodate more ships, said Reint Reinders, CEO of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"That's been on the list of priorities of Port District chairmen for a long time," Reinders said.

But funding hasn't been allocated.

"The Port Commission says it doesn't have the money," Reinders added. "But it's high time they find it since the cruise ship companies have indicated by their presence that they want to be here, and obviously their customers want to be here.

"So now it the time to strike, while the iron is hot."

At present the port has two piers for cruise ships one at the foot of B Street, which has two births. The Broadway pier also has two berths, but ordinarily only one is used. The B Street terminal and two temporary tents currently serve passengers.