Newport looks to the cruise ship industry to help float its boat

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

NEWPORT Newport could find its niche in the niche cruise industry, experts say, but it’s not going to happen overnight.

A recent feasibility study found that the Port of Newport has the infrastructure to host smaller cruise ships, up to 600 feet, and initial response from the industry has been positive, says Bill Cook, principal partner at Cook and Associates in Astoria, which conducted the study. Executives at Princess Cruise Lines have even expressed interest in sending a ship there for a test run.

Unlike Astoria, which serves as a stopover for larger ships making the transition from summer tours in Alaska to winter waters down south, Newport’s opportunity lies in attracting specialized, niche excursions, Cook says. The smaller vessels could stay longer and even use Newport as a point of embarkation for other destinations along the Columbia River.

Drawing cruise ships to port is no easy task, though. Some communities, such as  Eureka, Calif., have been trying to entice cruise lines for years but continue to get the cold shoulder, says Lawrence Dessler, executive director of the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance, an organization that promotes the industry. Even in Astoria, where 19 cruise ships are expected this year, it took about 10 years to grab the industry’s attention, says Bruce Conner, director of cruise marketing for Astoria’s port. He estimates that $20,000 to $30,000 is spent annually in further marketing efforts.

For Newport to see any cruise traffic, it’s also going to take aggressive marketing, Cook and Dessler agree. Networking with other ports of call, including Astoria, to develop itineraries in the region will be critical.

With each cruise patron spending from $70 to $120 on average at each port of call, the industry can be quite a boon for local business, though the feasibility study did not address the economic impact for Newport. This month, officials plan to begin gauging support from the community before deciding how to proceed.           

JAMIE HARTFORD


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