Cruise industry could provide needed economic boost later this summer

Posted at 8:57 AM, May 13, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-13 09:57:13-04

COVID-19 and the economic restrictions it's led to have canceled some of the Great Lakes cruises expected to dock in Milwaukee this summer.

Adam Schlicht, the Director of the Port of Milwaukee, said all cruise activity in June has been canceled.

2020 was supposed to be a banner year for Milwaukee's cruise industry. There were 14 cruises scheduled to dock here.

Schlicht said, if the ships are able to begin operations again on July 1, Milwaukee would "still see over 10 cruises this year."

"The name of the game for us will be flexibility," Schlicht said. "We'll be trying to accommodate those cruise lines still able to come into Milwaukee this year. It's going to be an interesting summer trying to respond to social distancing, but also trying to bring tourism back to Milwaukee as soon as it's safe to do so."

Pearl Sea Cruises uses the Port of Milwaukee as a turnaround location. So, its Great Lakes cruises either start or end in the Brew City.

Schlicht said the port typically makes $5,000 per ship through docking fees plus services provided like swapping out the vessel's water and sewage.

If 10 cruise ships still make it Milwaukee this summer, that's $50,000.

Schlicht said the revenue the port generates typically is used to provide tax relief across the city.

"You're talking $50,000 in new revenue going directly to the taxpayers of Milwaukee via the Port," he said.

But he said the major economic impact comes in the form of the roughly 300 passengers per ship, plus the typical 200 crew members on board, patronizing Milwaukee hotels, restaurants and shops.

According to a Cruise Lines International Association study, cruise passengers spend $376.00 in port cities before boarding. They spend $101 on average in each visiting port destination during a cruise.

"That's where the real value is," Schlicht said.

While much of the economy remains closed, Schlicht said there's increasing confidence some cruise ships will make it to Milwaukee later this summer.

He said early indications from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, plus authorities in Canada, shows "increasing evidence and comfort that cruise ships with under 500 passengers and crew are going to be the first to really come back into the market in a robust way."

"Fortunately for the Port of Milwaukee, that's right in our sweet spot," Schlicht added.

He said he's not concerned cancellations this summer due to COVID-19 will cripple Milwaukee's momentum in the cruise industry going forward.

Schlicht noted Viking Cruises announced Milwaukee as its turnaround, home port beginning in 2022 as it enters the Great Lakes market.

He said the Port of Milwaukee is expecting cruise bookings as far out as 2025.

"I have a lot of optimism that the substantial foundation we've laid on the recreational cruise side here in Milwaukee will continue," Schlicht said.

"We believe there are still other cruise lines in the international space that are looking to enter the Great Lakes market in the years ahead," he added.

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