BANGOR, Maine — American Cruise Lines, one of the biggest customers to use the city’s waterfront, plans to scale back the number of cruise ship stops in Bangor from a total of 21 to six, a move that could adversely affect the local economy.
Tim Beebe, vice president of marketing for the Connecticut-based cruise company, said the decision was purely business-driven and had nothing to do with Bangor’s hospitality.
“We love Bangor. The city has been good to us. It was a tough decision,” he said this week. “It all came down to a lack of flight options and the cost of flying into Bangor.”
Flight costs are driven by airlines, not airports, but Beebe said American Cruise Lines has been losing business on some of its Bangor cruises because customers have been flying into Portland and then busing to Bangor.
Although there were no data available on how many cruise passengers flew into Bangor versus how many flew into Portland and took the bus to Bangor, many passengers have said travel has become inconvenient, according to Beebe.
“We had heard there may be some changes since last fall, and we finally got word recently,” City Engineer Jim Ring said. “Of course, we’re disappointed, but we understand they have a business to run.”
American operates two different cruise routes that have stops in Maine: the Maine Coast & Harbors cruise and the Grand New England cruise.
Bangor has been an origin port for the Maine Coast & Harbors cruise since 2007. But beginning in 2010, the homeport will shift south to Portland. That cruise route operates 15 weeks throughout the season with a 100-passenger ship, the American Independence, Beebe said.
Bangor will remain an origin for three of the six cruises on the Grand New England course — Aug. 4, Aug. 25 and Sept. 14 — which ends in Providence, R.I. The other three originate in Providence and end in Bangor. The Grand New England cruise operates on a smaller ship, the American Glory, which has four decks and a capacity of 49 people.
Any vessel that stops in Bangor pays docking fees. The bigger the ship, the bigger the fees. That money is not all profit, though. It costs the city roughly $35,000 every year to assemble its transient dock.
“It’s hard to guess on the economic impact,” Ring said. “We received between $10,000 and $12,000 in docking fees [last year], so we’ll lose quite a bit of that, but that doesn’t include whatever is spent by customers locally.”
Kerrie Tripp, executive director of the Greater Bangor Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the loss certainly hurts the local economy, but she’s not ready to give up on American.
“Obviously, there was money spent downtown in shops and restaurants, but it’s hard to put any exact numbers on it,” she said. “We’re still communicating with American to see what we can do to better facilitate their needs.”
Ring said he and other city officials plan to meet with American representatives sometime in February to see if a deal can be worked out to bring some stops back. If not, the city will look elsewhere.
Beebe said American has no plans to pull out of Bangor entirely, and he left open the possibility that some cruises could return in the future.
American Cruise Lines began operating in Bangor almost by accident. In 2002, a wayward cruise ship seeking refuge from choppy waters off Maine’s coast navigated its way up the Penobscot River to Bangor. The ship was met by local officials bearing refreshments who entertained passengers with a brief oral history of the city. A partnership was born.