By Rodger Rees, Galveston Wharves Port Director and CEO
From cruise and cargo to capital projects, the Port of Galveston is off to a strong start this year. When comparing February 2023 numbers to the same time last year, performance is up for cargo and cruise.
Solid financial performance is helping our self-sustaining port fund major capital projects, including cruise terminal and cargo facility expansions. All of this translates into more jobs and regional economic growth.
Cargo tonnage was up almost 44 percent this February compared to the same time last year. Bulk grains, fertilizer, liquid bulk, roll-on/roll-off cargo and new cars are all dramatically up. Cargo ships calling at the port totaled 52, a 13 percent increase over February 2022.
Lay ship calls, another revenue generator for the port, were up 10 percent, with 55 ship calls compared to 50 for the same time last year.
Cruising to Economic Growth
Cruise is the biggest winner for the port, as reflected in the following comparisons of this February versus last year:
- 71 cruise sailings, up 22 percent
- 521,503 passenger movements (embarkations and debarkations), up 123 percent
- 37,290 port cruise parking customers, a 154 percent increase
As these numbers reflect, cruising from Galveston Island has never been better. We estimate 355 sailings in 2023, a new record in the port’s 22-year history as a cruise homeport. We’re also on track to break our previous record of more than 1 million cruise passengers last year.
Several factors are contributing to this growth, including the following:
- The increasing popularity of cruise vacations
- Galveston’s market position as the fourth most popular U.S. cruise port and only Texas home port
- Our location as a prime drive-to cruise port a day’s drive from more than 30 million people
- The opening of a third cruise terminal in November 2022
With all of this going for our port, it’s no surprise that popular cruise lines Carnival and Royal Caribbean, both long-time port cruise partners, are investing in cruise terminal infrastructure and newer and larger ships for Galveston. Other major cruise lines, Disney, Norwegian and Princess, have seasonal sailings from Galveston.
This cruise and cargo growth translates into new jobs and more work hours for union workers. Experts forecast more than 650,000 union hours on the Galveston waterfront in 2023, the highest in years.
Capital Projects Update
The port is on track to issue $100 million in bonds to help fund much-needed, time-sensitive projects, including expansion of the West Port Cargo Complex, major improvements to the Pier 25 cruise terminal, and construction of a proposed fourth cruise terminal at Pier 16. The bonds could be leveraged with millions of dollars in grants, private-sector funds and the port’s operational reserves for maximum benefits.
We’re already working on improvements at Cruise Terminal 25 to prepare for the arrival of Carnival’s new, larger ship, the Jubilee, in December.
In anticipation of a partnership agreement with MSC to build a new cruise terminal and parking garage at Pier 16, we’re initiating preliminary studies for project scope, budget and design. The fourth cruise terminal is included in the port’s 20-Year Strategic Master Plan, adopted by the Wharves Board in 2019.
We’ll also continue to invest in transportation and mobility infrastructure to move more cargo and cruise traffic efficiently in and around the port. Two examples include our interior roadway, which is one of our major master plan projects, and state-of-the-art mobility technology like license plate readers for cruise parking lots.
By far, the most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing the vision of our board and staff become reality as we execute the master plan to maximize port assets for the benefit of Galveston citizens.