ELLSWORTH, Maine — Maine’s 2011 cruise ship season came to a close Wednesday as the ships Poesia and Caribbean Princess sailed out of Frenchman Bay off Bar Harbor.
On Sunday, Oct. 23, Jewel of the Seas was the final ship to visit Portland for the year.
With 65 cruise ship visits in Portland and 106 in Bar Harbor, neither municipality had a record number of visits this year. Portland, which had 71 cruise ship visits in 2010, had more visits from large ocean liners, however, and so is believed to have hosted several thousand more cruise ship passengers in 2011 than it did last year. Officials have estimated that approximately 90,000 cruise ship passengers were expected to visit Portland this year.
One more cruise ship visit in Bar Harbor would have tied the record it set in 2010, when it had 107 such visits. Bar Harbor had 118 cruise ship visits scheduled when its season began in late April, but 11 of them canceled for various reasons, including weather, which is typical in any year, according to Bar Harbor Harbormaster Charlie Phippen. Bar Harbor is believed to have hosted a rough, ballpark estimate of 150,000 cruise ship passengers this year.
Chris Fogg, executive director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday that among the more notable cruise ship visits this year to Bar Harbor was the Queen Elizabeth’s first-ever stop in Frenchman Bay on Sept. 24. He said local officials presented the captain of the 964-foot Cunard vessel, which carries more than 2,000 passengers and was brought into service in October 2010, with a commemorative plaque and live lobsters during the visit.
According to Fogg, despite the minor decrease in cruise ship visits to Maine’s two busiest cruise ship ports, the cruise ship industry continues to have a significant direct effect on Maine’s economy and has a more residual effect as well. Rockland, Bath and Belfast are among other Maine towns that had cruise ships visits in 2011, most of which were by smaller vessels that carry between 50 and 100 passengers at a time.
According to a 2009 economic impact study from the Cruise Lines International Association, Maine’s economy benefited from $34.5 million in direct cruise industry spending in 2009, an increase of about $6 million or 19 percent over the previous year.
That spending in 2009 generated 637 jobs in Maine and about $19 million in wages for Maine workers that year, according to the report.
Tourism officials in Maine have said that, on average, cruise ship passengers are estimated to spend approximately $100 in each port that they visit. And officials believe they frequently spend more on subsequent visits.
Fogg said Thursday that he does not have concrete data, but through inquiries local Chamber members have determined that some people who first visit Bar Harbor on cruise ships come back later on their own and stay in local lodging establishments. This shows, he said, that the cruise ship industry helps provide a boost to more traditional tourism businesses in Maine.
“We know that they do return,” Fogg said.
Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, said Thursday that the jump in Maine’s cruise ship business over the past 20 years has had an overall positive effect on Maine’s tourism industry. Not only have cruise ships helped bring new visitors to Maine, but they have helped boost the number of tourists in the state after each Labor Day.
The cruise ship business provides “an opportunity to extend our season a bit, but it also exposes cruise ship passengers to the destinations,” Ouellette said.
Like Fogg, Ouellette said lodging business owners have told her that some of their customers come to Maine after having first seen it from the deck of a cruise ship. When former cruise ship passengers do return, she said, they frequently visit towns and businesses they did not see while cruising.
“It does occur, and not just in the ports-of-call,” Ouellette said. “It’s another opportunity to showcase Maine.”