ROCKLAND, Maine — Maine coastal communities love the tourism dollars that cruise ships bring, but a flap over passenger fees underscores the delicate balance when it comes to ports weighing the costs and benefits when large cruise ships visit.
Royal Caribbean, whose Jewel of the Seas and its 2,300 passengers visited Rockland last year, has openly criticized the city’s decision to increase its cruise ship fee from $1 to $6 per passenger.
Melissa Maker, chairwoman of the Harbor Management Commission, said the fee increase would help to compensate for the costs imposed on the community and its infrastructure by cruise ship visits. Royal Caribbean was informed last year that the fees would be going up for this summer, she added.
Royal Caribbean told the Maine Public Broadcasting Network that the fee increase “is excessive and ill-timed given current economic conditions.” It also criticized the late notice.
For now, there’s a standoff and it’s unclear whether those higher fees will jeopardize a port of call by the Jewel of the Seas, now scheduled for October, in Rockland.
The fees, along with efforts in Rockland to establish a limit on the number of cruise ship visits, has caused friction between business owners who benefit from tourism and city officials who say they’re just trying to be realistic about the true costs of hosting large cruise ships.
“We’re not discouraging the cruise ship industry. We just want to be very proactive and make sure we’re doing the right thing for everyone involved — citizens, fishermen and the town itself,” Maker said.
More than 30 cruise ships are expected to visit Rockland this summer and fall, representing a growth of nearly 400 percent over the last seven years, said Shari Closter of the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce.
She’s concerned over the flap between the city and Royal Caribbean.
But Rockland City Councilor Brian Harden said Royal Caribbean didn’t help its case with the way it responded to the fee increase. The company wants to reset the fee to $1 a passenger, which doesn’t seem reasonable when Bar Harbor charges $8 a passenger and Portland charges $9 a passenger, he said.
“We know that cruise ships are part of our future,” he said. “Our harbor is one of the best on the East Coast of the United States, and we know that we can take the largest of the cruise ships. Having said that, we also know we have to cover what it actually costs us.”