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Visitors give high praise to downtown

Study details cruise ship economic impact on Rockland

By Stephen Betts | Aug 05, 2019
Photo by: Stephen Betts A study detailed the impact of cruise ship visits to downtown Rockland.

Rockland — Cruise ship passengers spent an estimated $269,000 during visits to Rockland last year, according to a university study.

The Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Maine conducted an analysis of the impact of 2018 cruise ship visits on downtown Rockland. The study was commissioned by the city of Rockland.

The researchers pointed out that the analysis was not an exhaustive one, noting that it did not take into account revenues paid by the cruise ship companies to city government, or fees paid to pilot boats.

The findings from the report found that 5,986 passengers and crew members came ashore in Rockland during 2018. Visitors spent an average of $45 per person, with the visitors from large ships spending an average of $54 and small ship visitors spending an average of $35.

Downtown businesses were surveyed, with 43 percent saying they had an increase in revenues during visits by cruise ships, 14 percent reporting a decrease, and 41 percent saying there was no change. The larger cruise ships resulted in a greater impact for downtown businesses, according to the report, with 54 percent of businesses saying they saw increased revenues during their stops in Rockland.

A large cruise ship is defined as one carrying 500 or more passengers.

Nearly 80 percent of cruise ship visitors said they were satisfied or extremely satisfied with their on-shore experiences.

Twenty-nine percent of visitors said they would likely return by cruise ship in the next five years, and 30 percent said they were likely to return by another mode of transportation in the next five years.

The report surveyed 305 of the 5,986  visitors who came ashore in Rockland.

Of the visitors surveyed, 88 percent said they spent an average of nearly three hours in downtown Rockland.

Visitors praised the atmosphere of downtown Rockland, and rated highly the service at shops and restaurants. The natural beauty of Rockland was also rated very good and excellent by the visitors.

The average age of the visitors was 67, with a median household income of $120,000.

Nearly one in five visitors came from another country, while nearly a third came from the northeast United States.

The report stated that electronic surveys were emailed to 111 businesses and organizations last fall. Fifty-four businesses and organizations responded to at least one of the five surveys sent to them.

The downtown businesses also were asked how much activity they saw compared to other busy times. Eleven percent said they were busier during a cruise ship visit day than a typical busy summer day, while 56 percent of respondents said it was slower.

The university study was commissioned by the city through the Musson Group, based in Southwest Harbor.

The study also surveyed visitors who did not come by cruise ship. These visitors spent an average of $77 per day if they visited for the day and $162 if they stayed overnight.

Rockland City Councilor Valli Geiger responded to the report, which was presented to the City Council Monday evening, Aug. 5. "I'm struck by how much more money land-based tourists spend," Geiger said.

The visitors who came other than by cruise ships were also questioned about the impact of cruise ship visitors.

"Of the sample of land-based visitors surveyed, there is no evidence that the experience and likelihood of return visits of land-based visitors were either positively or negatively influenced by cruise ship traffic," the report stated.

Last August, the Rockland City Council voted to impose a limit on the number of large cruise ships that could come into the harbor. That vote came at the end of a three-hour meeting, which included two hours of public comment, almost exclusively on the cruise ship issue. The public was nearly evenly divided on the issue.

The vote to set a limit was 3-2, with then-Mayor Geiger and Councilors Adam Ackor and Amelia Magjik supporting the caps.

The order approved by the council set no limits on cruise ships that carry up to 500 passengers, other than that there can be no more than two at a time.

Cruise ships with more than 500 passengers can only use the harbor during September and October, with a limit of six a year.

The daily passenger maximum in September and October is 3,000.

The order approved in August 2018 stated that the limits would be reviewed annually. No review has been debated.

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Comments (8)
Posted by: James Clinton Leach | Aug 09, 2019 17:52

Amy I don’t think what you have heard is enough evidence to say no, in fact if your desire is to have a thriving Downtown, might you consider the income from these tourists helping the Downtown Merchants weather our long winters with decreased income.

Owning a business looks simple to those that do not and a few extra dollars means a lot, so putting more money into these business pockets  during  the Summer is a great help ...

Posted by: Leslie Spiers | Aug 07, 2019 15:12

I say the more the merrier!  I have not heard one negative word regarding cruise ships from my local customers or customers from away.  But I have heard the jab regarding Rockland being the Say No City!  There has been no negative impact on our city or the Harbor that has been proven.  Start saying YES.  Our local economy needs it.  Stop putting restrictions on businesses that want to come to Rockland and restrictions on our citizens.


Posted by: George Terrien | Aug 06, 2019 20:26

Excellent observation, Amy Files.  You found the center of the issues.

Posted by: Amy Files | Aug 06, 2019 11:14

When I worked at an inn downtown I heard multiple visitors tell us that they were upset to come to town when there was a large cruise ship in town -- that they came to Rockland because they didn't want a Bar Harbor experience. I've also heard similar comments have been repeated to shopkeepers downtown by those who happen to be here when a large cruise ship has let out passengers. People absolutely avoid Bar Harbor for this reason... so to suggest that there is little evidence that it would impact land-based tourists is just not true. And more importantly -- this survey did not take into account impact on residents or people who live here. A year-round residential community is as important, if not more important, than a seasonal tourist economy -- especially if you want year-round businesses that cater to people who live here.

Posted by: Stephen Betts | Aug 06, 2019 09:19

The city commissioned the Musson Group which used the University of Southern Maine's research group.

Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Aug 06, 2019 08:21

Good question David. They surveyed  5% of the visitors ?  I would be more interested in seeing the comparisons of other cities who actually welcome cruise ship visitors, like Portland, Bar Harbor & booth bay Harbor.  If you are driving to visit rockland,you generally do not have the luxury of eating on board ship for free, rather than visiting area restaurants and coffee shops.  This could partially explain the difference in spending.  Also older folks generally don't eat as much and may only purchase a trinket or tee shirt as a memento from their visit.  I say bring on the cruise ships and large yachts.  We need the money.

Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Aug 06, 2019 08:11

Cruise ship passengers spend less than land-based tourists because those on cruises are provided with sleeping quarters ad meals while they are passengers.

Posted by: David Cockey | Aug 05, 2019 22:10

"The university study was commissioned by the Musson Group based in Southwest Harbor."  The Munson Group is a consulting firm. Who is the Munson Group's client that the study was done for?

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