A warm Southern welcome greeted the Carnival Fantasy as year-round cruising from the historic Port of Charleston began last week.
By all accounts, it has been a successful launch. The first three ships went out full, with a total of more than 7,000 guests. Importantly, the traffic is being managed and the economy is benefiting from increased spending by passengers, the ship and her crew.
This new economic opportunity, along with the tremendous benefits of remaking the waterfront with the Union Pier redevelopment, has given our port and our neighbors great hope for what can be accomplished on this part of the peninsula.
Affording this success are many positive changes that have been made to the cruise operation in Charleston over the past few years.
For example, cruise schedules are now available on the web. More than 2,000 people have signed up for e-mail notices on cruise activity, further enhancing communication with local residents and merchants. The cruise schedule is also presented to the city for its master events calendar.
A new traffic routing plan and signage have addressed traffic impacts. Off-duty police officers are now hired to direct traffic, and cruise traffic typically runs opposite of the rush hour.
To help with way-finding and to effectively direct guests, the Convention and Visitors Bureau staffs a welcome desk for port-of-calls. Local hotels now offer stay-park-and-ride packages shuttling guests to the terminal.
Cruise guests may drop off their luggage early, allowing them to enjoy our city until boarding.
All of these were measures specifically implemented to improve how cruises operate in Charleston.
On the environmental front, new clean fuel requirements for ships were adopted in March, which the EPA says will reduce particulate matter pollution from cruise and cargo vessels by 85 percent. Also, the EPA expanded its regulation of cruise ship discharges under the Clean Water Act's Vessel General Permit.
Working with the CVB and the Aviation Authority, we have successfully attracted embarkations, or ships departing from Charleston, which provide even greater economic benefit.
We have also focused on visits by some of the finest ships afloat, including calls by four of the world's five "luxury" cruise lines during the next 18 months. The world's best and most respected lines call one of the world's finest seaport cities.
The new cruise terminal plan, developed with much public input, respects the size and context of the city. While there may be times when two ships are berthed due to mechanical, scheduling or emergency situations, those are clearly the exceptions. The Ports Authority endeavors to avoid this, if at all possible. The plan to shift the cruise terminal north on Union Pier would allow for only one ship at a time -- it is a one-berth terminal.
Charleston has had the opportunity to see the cruise business up close since 1973, including weekly cruises by the Norwegian Majesty for several years. More than 900 cruise ships have visited our remarkable city during this time.
There is no indication that Charleston suffered from this experience. In fact, there is a powerful argument to the contrary.
Cruising has introduced several hundred thousand tourists from around the world to this city and our state. These guests patronize our restaurants, stay in our hotels, visit our historic homes and gardens, support our attractions, and purchase from our merchants.
At about 3 percent of total local visitors, the cruise industry is a small part of the local tourism economy.
But it has a substantial economic impact. Beyond the supplies purchased by the cruise ship and the spending by passengers, this business touches local workers in a very real way.
When a cruise ship is embarking, hundreds of people are working in support of this operation.
Several dozen longshoremen handle luggage and supplies, while other locals are employed in guest services, security and operations.
The cruise industry and the Ports Authority very much understand and appreciate the character of Charleston and believe that cruising must fit into the scale of the city.
Based on what we've all seen over the past few days and years, it does exactly that. Local limitations, ordinances or other actions to discourage the cruise business do not seem justified in light of our shared experience.
Thanks to the support of Charleston's residents and various community leaders, the cruise business is a success here in South Carolina.
We remain committed to working closely with the community to enhance the economy while preserving the city's unique historic character.
Jim Newsome is president and CEO of the S.C. State Ports Authority.
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