Port's deputy director attends International Cruise ConventionWith white sandy beaches and swaying palm trees outside the door, some might wonder at the throngs of people heading into the Miami Beach Convention Center. But for Port of Astoria Deputy Director Bill Cook, the attraction was indoors, not out, on his recent trip to participate in the 20th annual SeaTrade Convention.

SeaTrade is the largest annual gathering of cruise line owners, operators and suppliers in the world. At this year's convention, held March 15 - 18, there were 950 exhibitors, with an attendance estimated at 9,000 people from over 100 countries. For the Port of Astoria, this was an unparalleled opportunity to meet with cruise line decision makers who have the power to make Astoria an in-transit stop or a port-of-call.

Through the strength of its membership in Cruise-the-West, an eleven-port consortium dedicated to promoting West Coast ports to cruise lines, the Port of Astoria was able to participate at a greater level than if exhibiting as a stand-alone port.

"With a booth that was 20'x 60' of an island in the 'Destinations' exhibit hall, we had an amazing presence," said Cook.

The CTW booth had four separate seating arrangements within its designated area, allowing for multiple meetings and introductions of CTW consortium members and cruise line representatives, which, Cook said, is critical considering the many layers of management contacts within each cruise line company.

"Cruise lines have financial and port facilities folks who make the first determination on a port," says Cook. "Safety of their vessel and passengers, and the cost of getting a ship to berth are major factors in their decision making process. Fuel, time and access to a port all play a part in making a call viable or not."

Cook added that amenities, attractions and community readiness all come in further along in the process but are equally important in the overall program.

"When facilities and costs pencil, the rest of our community package comes into play, and that's when the shore excursion and itinerary planners get involved," Cook said.

The Port of Astoria paid $600 for delegate status at SeaTrade, allowing Cook access to programs, meetings, and other platforms for informing cruise officials about Port of Astoria and the North Coast. Delegate status also allowed Cook entry to an event that included an art auction and dinner, in which the proceeds benefited Florida Caribbean Cruise Line Association, an organization that provides financial assistance to impoverished countries with ports-of-call.

"This is a way for the cruise line industry to 'give back' to the communities that make them successful. The cruise lines are dedicated to providing financial assistance to the localities that directly benefit by cruise ship visits, and also to those communities in poorer nations in need of financial assistance, but unable to take advantage of the offerings of the lines who make the visits," he said.

For Cook, the highlight of the convention was when Bill Sharp, Vice President of Port Operations and Fleet Security for Holland America Line addressed the subject of minor ports-of-call to an audience of cruise line executives and other port representatives.

"He told the large group assembled that for small ports to be successful in the cruise business, they should use Astoria as a template for successful port of calls," Cook stated.

"The volunteers, public officials and business owners in our community should be very proud of their contribution," he noted.

Rita Vandergaw, Senior Director for the Port of San Diego, a CTW member, also had praise for the North Coast effort and success.

"What Astoria has accomplished is nothing short of amazing. I am aware of many ports that have invested a decade or more in developing relationships with cruise lines before they have actually seen the fruits of their labor," Vandergaw said.

The Port of Astoria has seen cruise ship calls dating back to the 1980's, when Sitmar Cruise Lines called sixteen times over a three year period.

From 1997 through 2001, the Port saw eight calls by Norwegian Cruise Lines, only to lose that business to the Asian market. The primary reason for cruise ships to visit the Columbia River came from the presence of the large dry-dock positioned at the Port of Portland, at which cruise ships could perform repairs. When that dry-dock left the river, so did the focus on Astoria as a cruise port.

Cook said, to reinvigorate cruise line interest in the region, the Port of Astoria took the initiative to promote Oregon's North Coast and take advantage of the growing Alaska cruise market. More ships in that market, he said, could spell more opportunity for this area.

"We joined Cruise-the-West in 2000, recognizing this consortium could help us reach a broader cruise line market."

Last year the Port of Astoria had 13 cruise ship calls, including an overnight stay by the ResidenSea. While some of the stops came about because the SARS epidemic and post 911 deployments, which caused cruise ship companies to seek alternate itineraries, the cruise lines were very happy with their Astoria calls.

Master Kent Ringborn, at the Port of Astoria in May 2003 on the Radiance of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship, was enthusiastic about the call.

"Our passengers had a great time. On a scale of one to ten, Astoria is a twelve," Ringborn said.

This year there are seven cruise calls scheduled to date, and six already lined up for 2005. A new line, Celebrity Cruise's Infinity, part of a Royal Caribbean contingency, will appear in 2006.

Cruise business is big business for both the Port of Astoria and the North Coast community. In fiscal year 2002-2003, the Port realized approximately $120K in dockage fees, almost 44% of its total pier revenue. For the Port, this income translates into local jobs for the companies and people that service the cruise ships, including Port staff.

For the local business community, cruise passengers provide a significant revenue opportunity. While no exit interviews have been done in Astoria, those conducted during the 2003 cruise season by the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority in Victoria, B.C. and by the Port of Seattle indicate passenger spending averages $150 per person, per port, based on an average stay of eight hours.

Generally about sixty-percent of passengers and crew go ashore when in Astoria. With the resulting average of 1,900 people likely to leave each ship for shore excursions and shopping in the 2004 season, the economic impact to the region will be sizable.

For the Port of Astoria and the other Cruise-the-West ports, this year's SeaTrade convention is considered to be the most successful yet. Cook feels the effort of the Port and the community is paying off.

"We had an incredible amount of access to the international cruise market at the show," Cook said. "The North Coast of Oregon is gaining recognition as a port that provides the experience and facility as promoted to the cruise industry."

For a current cruise ship schedule, see the Port of Astoria's Web site at (www.portofastoria.com) or contact the Port offices at (503) 325-4521.

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