By Rodger Rees
Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
If rising cruise passenger numbers are any indication, it’s going to be a busy summer at the Port of Galveston. Since cruising resumed in July 2021, passenger numbers and ship occupancy counts have climbed.
This year through April 25, there were 100 sailings with 243,248 total passengers embarking on the 6 Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise ships that call our port home. Ship occupancy rates have climbed steadily each month – an indication that our typically busy summer season will be really strong.
We expect these numbers to continue to grow through the rest of the year as more vacationers return to cruising and as more ships sail from Galveston.
More Ships on the Horizon
Passenger counts will take a big jump in the last months of 2022 when our third cruise terminal opens in November. Royal Caribbean’s much-anticipated Allure of the Seas is scheduled for nine sailings in November and December. The Princess Cruises Ruby Princess arrives in December, with two sailings this year. Norwegian’s Prima sails twice in October, kicking off its 2023 seasonal sailing schedule.
Several factors contribute to this passenger growth. One is Galveston’s popularity as a cruise port and vacation destination. Another is pent-up demand after the 1 ½-year cruise sailing hiatus. I believe a third factor is the success of safety protocols put in place by the port, the cruise industry and agencies to manage and mitigate COVID. Cruise passengers can have confidence that the cruise industry and port have taken steps to protect passengers and crew.
In March the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lifted its risk advisory for cruise ship travel, another signal that safety and health measures are working.
Great Economic News
The resurgence of cruising is positive economic news for the port and the region. More passengers and sailings mean increased work hours and incomes for the thousands of people who support our cruise industry. Onshore staff, terminal security officers, parking shuttle drivers, ship suppliers, longshoremen who handle luggage, and many more benefit from the port’s cruise business.
The cruise uptick is already boosting the financial bottom line for our self-sustaining, citizen-owned port. Net cash flow for the first quarter of 2022 was $1.4 million over budget. We collect revenues from the port-owned cruise parking service, passenger head counts, and ship dockage and wharfage.
In the first quarter we parked almost 24,000 cars. Our parking business is growing through a concerted effort that includes effective marketing and customer outreach, an online reservation system and operational efficiencies.
The port’s growing cruise business also benefits the Galveston tourism business. Research confirms that cruise visitors stay overnight, shop and dine in Galveston.
According to Cruise Lines International Association’s (CLIA’s) most recent economic impact report, passengers and crew members spent $125 million onshore in 2019. Overall, cruise industry expenditures statewide totaled $1.6 billion.
This week I attended the Seatrade Cruise Global expo in Miami, where the Port of Galveston had a booth. The annual conference is attended by representatives from the cruise lines, travel agencies, ports of call, and industry support businesses, to name a few. Based on my conversations, I can tell you that there is strong interest in Galveston as the fourth most popular cruise homeport in North America.
Rodger Rees is Galveston Wharves port director and chief executive officer.