Community Voices
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A Princess cruise ship sets sail. (photo: princess.com)

With all the talk about cargo ships stacking up along our coast, few have noticed that cruise ships are back at the Port of Los Angeles. 

I didn’t realize how much I missed hearing the Love Boat tune coming through my window as the ships left port. Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean International, Viking Ocean Cruises, and Princess Cruise Lines are now offering Mexico and Hawaii vacation voyages. Along with in-transit stops from other carriers, San Pedro is quickly regaining tourism interests, especially for passengers who come in a day early or return home a day after their cruise.

In fact, 2022 could bring in twice the number of cruises from 2019 and at steep discounts. My Croatian father-in-law, Frank Gasperov, was as cheap — er, I mean, frugal — as anyone I’ve ever known. He loved to cruise and would often tell me, “All-inclusive cruises, for less than what you would pay for a hotel, are a steal.” Now you can book a cruise for less than half the price of a hotel room. They include premium drinks, with even better deals for Los Angeles residents. I don’t know of a time when prices have been this low and offered so many upgrades and additional cruise credits. If you’re thinking about an inexpensive getaway, now’s the time.

We all remember the horror stories from the early days of the pandemic. The cruise ships are stepping up safety requirements with 100 percent vaccinated guests and crew, requiring a negative COVID test within 48 hours of a cruise, and extraordinary cleaning measures. The payoff is the ability for passengers to return to normalcy with no mask requirements, no need for social distancing, and the ability to socialize with other passengers with much less risk of catching the disease.

The ships are also running at about 75 percent capacity, which for me, means a shorter wait at the bar. Even with reduced capacity, we can expect between 2,500 and 5,000 cruise ship passengers per voyage and around 1,300 to 2,000 crew members. This will provide a much-needed shot in the arm for our hotels and hospitality industry, with additional foot traffic to Downtown San Pedro during the day and our lunch hours for restaurants.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), in 2018, there were 28.5 million cruise ship passengers globally, with the bulk (14.2 million) being from North America. This represented $38.4 billion in earnings in 2019. The cruise ship industry is betting that by creating a COVID-free bubble, they can lure these loyal and enthusiastic passengers back. Research group Stastista predicts we could see cruise ship passenger numbers returning to pre-pandemic levels as early as 2024. That could be perfect timing for San Pedro, as it matches up nicely with the completion of the West Harbor project. 

The prospect of increased numbers of tourism visitors is being closely tracked and studied as the port is actively working on a connectivity plan. Moving people around the cruise ship terminals, around development at West Harbor and the marina, and connecting the San Pedro downtown could give us leverage in building faster public access to LAX and light rail. The improvements to freeway access on Harbor Blvd. will begin in 2022 and will create a better flow for trucks accessing the port and San Pedrans getting into and out of town.

Cruising is big business, and it will be up to our restaurants, hotels, retail businesses, and Crafted at the Port of Los Angeles to create a draw for these passengers spending time in San Pedro before and after their cruise. Typically, cruisers spend $100 per person, per day when in port, and with these ships that can equate to $1 million per ship. Shuttling these passengers around in our new rubber-tire trollies will help us extend people’s stay and enjoyment of San Pedro and give us access to those tourist dollars that will benefit our local businesses. 

I’m looking forward to what this will mean for new jobs, our art studios, outdoor dining, family-friendly attractions, things to do, and the possibility of more nightlife here in San Pedro. spt

Lee Williams

Lee Williams is board chair of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and leads The Williams Group at Keller Williams PV Realty.

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