“The magic number for us with the homeported vessels we have here is one million (passengers) and we expect to be around that number again for 2017,” Don Allee, director of cruise and tourism at the Port of New Orleans, told Cruise Industry News when interviewed in November. “And possibly a percentage point or two above that. We are very optimistic and our focus is to stay in the one million passenger club.”
Carnival Cruise Line sails year-round and Norwegian Cruise Line seasonally from New Orleans and the port’s experience has been that the ships go out at full capacity and sometimes up to 15 percent above capacity, according to Allee.
“More people are cruising, but we have also had some events driving growth. For example, the larger Carnival Triumph replaced the Elation last spring on a five-, five- and four-day rotation. And of course every Sunday we have the Carnival Dream in port.
“Next year the larger and newer Norwegian Pearl will replace the Dawn. The needle continues to point upward,” he added.
Capacity For More
“Capacity wise we still have room at our terminals (Erato and Julia Streets) as the utilization is not at 100 percent,” Allee said. “We can handle more vessels, but it depends on scheduling. The cruise lines we are talking to understand that and see no reason why they cannot work around the schedules we already have. We are constantly in communication with our current homeported operators and we are also talking about the future.”
In addition, the port has a significant number of port calls. “It is a matter of management, you must manage your facility, manage your scheduling, and I think we do a pretty good job of that,” Allee continued.
“Overnight calls seem to be one or two more than we had last year. It is a stretch to say it is a trend, but there is no other destination like New Orleans. I think it is one of the most cherished places to visit in the world, and the cruise operators understand that. They are producing schedules that allow passengers time to see more of what New Orleans has to offer.”
As for the possible new Poland Avenue Terminal, Allee said: “We are in the midst of a master plan update. And we can handle more ships at the Erato and Julia Street terminals, so we are waiting for the update that should be ready sometime after the first of the year (2017).”
River cruises are another component of New Orleans’ cruise traffic, and the demographics are said to be totally different from blue-water cruises.
Allee said the business was holding strong and may also show an upward trend in terms of passengers.
As for LNG, Allee answered: “We are in the energy sector of the United States. We can provide LNG anyway the cruise lines want it, by barge or pipeline. We will be ready to serve our customers once they tell us what they want.”
Meanwhile, the port is also focused on being a good citizen and promoting New Orleans.
“All great cities around the world seem to have grown up around a seaport so you always have a balancing act of having the facilities that are necessary to grow your business, serve your customers and preparing for the future, but also being respectful of the area you are in,” Allee said. “It is not just about the traffic, but also about playing a positive role in the community, whether it is about traffic management, making jobs available, contributing to the local community, which we do in dramatic fashion, or environmental protection.”
He also focused on making cruise customers more aware of all that New Orleans has to offer. “Passengers can have two vacations in one – spending time in the city and taking a cruise.”
Sixty percent of the passengers are drive to, but there may be additional opportunities just down the road, including more international visitors. There is nonstop air service from Central America, and more recently new direct transAtlantic airlift from Germany and the UK were announced, starting in 2017.
“We are also well positioned to capitalize on Cuba when that finally opens up without restrictions.
“It is a bright future,” he added. “We are working to strategically prepare for the opportunities, and as all port operators will tell you, you have to stay ahead of the opportunity curve.”
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