Cruise Growth Creates Excitement Around City by the Bay



The Port of San Francisco is a big winner in the cruise industry's recent expansion into new North American home port cities. San Francisco's cruise passenger totals, along with its cruise departures and port calls, have more than doubled since 1998, and 2006 is shaping up to be the city's biggest year ever, with nearly one quarter of a million cruise guests expected pass through San Francisco.

San Francisco expects to host nearly 250,000 cruise passengers in 2006

In a recent interview, Gerard Roybal, the Port of San Francisco's Maritime Marketing Manager, said the port has quickly grown from one that attracted only a handful of cruise-ship calls during a few months of the year in the late 1990s into a regional center that today offers extended Mexico cruise itineraries all 12 months of the year.

“The growth of our cruise business is big news for us,” said Roybal. “San Francisco has not had a passenger line sail from the port during all 12 months of the year since Matson Lines 35 years ago.” He added that although a few ships offer seven-day departures from San Francisco, the most popular itineraries are 11- and 12-day Mexico cruises, which draw vacationers from a broad regional market, including Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, Southern California and even Western Canada. “I am wildly excited about the momentum building behind this,” he said.

San Francisco's swelling cruise numbers are strongly linked to cruising's “homeport” phenomenon. Growing numbers of vacationers are opting to drive rather than fly to their cruise departure port, and operators are placing more ships into major coastal cities like San Francisco.

The cities are in turn building, improving and expanding passenger facilities. As few as five years ago, said Roybal, 65% of tourists arrived in San Francisco via airplane, with the other 35% came via automobile. Incredibly, the opposite is true today: 65% of vacationers arrive by car and 35% via airplane.

“More people are comfortable traveling in their cars than in airplanes,” said Roybal. “Because San Francisco now offers regular cruise service, in addition to our world-class cultural attractions, people are driving from as far away as western Canada to sail from San Francisco.” Because the current generation of faster cruise ships can journey far south to reach popular Mexican Riviera ports, “[San Francisco] has become a jumping-off point for 10- and 11-day Mexico departures,” said Roybal.

San Francisco's cruise traffic grew so quickly, the port found itself scrambling to accommodate all of the new business, said Roybal. “It really overcame us. The rapid increase in cruise business forced us to take a renewed look at our historic passenger facilities, which were literally designed in the 1850s and 1870s for wooden ships. We have had to clean up our terminal to bring it into the 21 st Century, meaning up to Department of Homeland Security standards for safety and security. We have also improved the passenger flow and comfort, as well as luggage handling.”

We have formed a public/private partnership to build a larger, wider cruise facility that we expect will be up and running in five to six years. We are committed to trying to make the wheels turn faster to get to where we need to be.”

As its cruise traffic has grown, the Port of San Francisco has hosted successful cooperative marketing and training events for travel agents.

The Port is also working closely with the San Francisco Convention and Visitors' Bureau and local tourism organizations to emphasize that the surging drive-in cruise traffic means, in Roybal's words, “This is bigger than the Port. This needs to be a citywide campaign. That is why it's so important for the port to work with travel agents and the city.”