ROCKPORT, Maine — The cruise industry has seen significant growth over the past decade and the future looks bright, but new environmental regulations could change its course.
That was the message Wednesday from Amy Powers, founding director of CruiseMaine USA Coalition, which promotes the cruise industry in Maine ports. Powers was one of several speakers discussing tourism in Maine during a breakfast conference for the Penobscot Bay Regional Chamber of Commerce at Samoset Resort.
The 304 cruise ship visits to Maine in 2011 pumped $45 million into the economy of port communities such as Rockland, Boothbay Harbor, Portland, Belfast and Bar Harbor, Powers said. That was a 25 percent increase from 2010.
The 2012 figures will not be released until August, but Powers is confident the economic impact was even greater last year.
This year, the number of planned cruise ship visits to Maine is set to reach a record high of 345.
Rockland is poised to see some of the greatest increases because of its central location on the Maine coast. Powers said cruise lines are seriously considering adding more visits here because passengers can visit nearby attractions as far south as Boothbay Harbor or as far north as Searsport.
With Bar Harbor near capacity, Rockland is perfectly situated for the boon. The city is expected to see nearly 5,000 passengers this year, Powers said.
Rockland Harbor Master Ed Glaser confirmed that Rockland Harbor will welcome more cruising tourists in 2013 than ever before. In addition to the nearly weekly visits of the cruise lines Independence and American Glory, larger ships will drop anchor this fall.
The MS Regatta will make three stops in Rockland — on Sept. 15, Oct. 3 and Oct. 9. The 590-foot-long Regatta carries 650 passengers and a crew of 350.
The Seven Seas Navigator, which carries 490 passengers and 350 crew members, arrives on Oct. 16 and clocks in at 565 feet. By comparison, the Independence carries 104 passengers and the American Glory holds 49.
Powers sees opportunities for growth but expressed concern about environmental regulations being imposed on cruise ships throughout U.S. ports this year. Ships soon will be required to use cleaner-burning fuels, which is more than twice as costly as high-sulfur fuel.
“Ticket prices will soar,” Powers warned.
She said cruise line companies could deploy their ships to other areas of the globe such as Australia and Asia, leaving fewer ships in the United States.
“We could see an exodus of cruise ships,” she said.
The cruise lines are working to reduce their carbon footprints, Powers said.
Another speaker at the Wednesday event was Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism. She discussed the state’s strategy for marketing Maine as a vacation location.
She said most visitors to Maine come from New England and Quebec. The tourism department is expanding its marketing efforts to the mid-Atlantic states, she said.