Study: Cruises bring hotels $4.9M

The cruise ship Celebrity Mercury is seen docked at the South Carolina State Ports Authority passenger terminal in downtown Charleston S.C.

Mic Smith

Cruise ships boost Charleston-area hotel revenues by $4.9 million yearly, more than four times an earlier estimate, according to a new study funded by the State Ports Authority.

College of Charleston professor John Crotts, who co-authored both studies, said the latest report suggests Charleston's pleasure ship business is attracting more passengers booking package deals that include hotels, and more who travel to the area and stay in local lodgings before and after cruises.

The study comes amid ongoing public debate in Charleston about the pros and cons of the cruise ship industry, and plans for a new cruise ship terminal.

The study by Crotts and marketing consultant Michael Wolfe took a statistical survey of hotel trends during a 1,004-day period. They found that on the two days prior to round-trip cruises leaving Charleston, and on the day after they returned, hotel occupancy increased in Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant and West Ashley.

"There's been debate, even among hoteliers, about whether this (cruise ship industry) has increased business," Crotts said. "This goes back and reinforces that there is a significant, measurable effect."

Crotts said it's also reasonable to assume there's a greater, broad economic impact from cruise ships than a study he co-authored with College of Charleston economist Frank Hefner had estimated.

"I would assume that is the case," Crotts said. "People have to eat."

The earlier study said cruise ship passengers spend $5.5 million in the area yearly, about $1.2 million of which was spent on accommodations.

Dana Beach, executive director of the Charleston-based Coastal Conservation League, which is part of a lawsuit seeking further local regulation of cruise ships, said it's clear that at least one of the studies Crotts co-authored is incorrect, but Beach said that's not really the issue.

"No one has ever disputed that there is some revenue that comes from these cruise ships," he said.

"They are arguing the wrong point," said Beach. "We're just saying that, like every other thing that brings revenue, we need to have reasonable standards and controls."

Reach David Slade at 937-5552.