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Port Tampa Bay is seeing its hottest cruise season in quite some time

Exterior of Port Tampa Bay building
Daylina Miller
/
WUSF Public Media
Eventually, Thompson says port officials want to open up another terminal to take in more ship traffic. In the shorter term, the port is looking to implement a new facial ID technology to make the check-in process more effective.

In December, the port will see 29 cruise ships, with each averaging about $350,000 in economic impact. Over the course of the year, the port estimates it will have served 1.2 million cruise passengers.

Port Tampa Bay is experiencing its busiest period of the year right now, with officials saying they're seeing higher numbers than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And with more cruise traffic comes more congestion, specifically in the Channel District in downtown Tampa.

Matt Thompson, director of cruise operations for the port, says his team is doing the best it can to keep traffic flowing smoothly.

But overall, he says the good from the congestion heavily outweighs the bad.

"With our 260 ship movements a year, we anticipate the economic impact of that to Tampa area to be about $628 million,” Thompson said. “So this cruise activity is a real boon for the local area."

In December, Thompson says the port will see 29 cruise ships, with each averaging about $350,000 in economic impact. Over the course of the year, the port estimates it will have served 1.2 million cruise passengers.

And Thompson says the port is going to become an even hotter destination for cruise ships going forward.

“Typically in Tampa, we have a cruise season that runs from November to about the beginning of May,” Thompson said. “We may have one or two ships over the summer on a more periodic basis as cruise activity shifts to other places like the Northeast or Alaska. However, this year, just based on the successes that we've had in Tampa, we anticipate having three full-time ships all through the summer as well from Carnival and from Royal Caribbean.”

Cruise ships account for about 20% of the activity at Port Tampa Bay, with the other major driver being cargo of supplies like gasoline, phosphate, lumber, and even orange juice, which Thompson says was needed more this year because of the crop damage sustained in the state due to Hurricane Ian.

Eventually, he says port officials want to open up another terminal to take in more ship traffic. In the shorter term, the port is looking to implement a new facial ID technology to make the check-in process more effective.

While the additional traffic in the area can be a hindrance, Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada says the money generation and job creation it spurs makes it more than worth it.

"Before those cruise and after those cruises, we want these people shopping and driving for economic impact, because at the end of the day, that means jobs in our community,” Corrada said. “If there are more people in the Channel district, the coffee shops, the restaurants need to hire locals to serve all those people."

Corrada says this is crucial following the COVID-19 pandemic, and he wants to see it continue to grow, although he knows too much growth too fast could lead to issues.

“I think Tampa as a destination has been very good about knowing when we hit a limit,” Corrada said. “I don't think we're near that. You don't want to damage the experience, right? If you're smart, you won't do that. So I think collectively, we have a lot of smart people in the industry that will know when too much is too much. I don't think we're near ‘too much’ at all.”

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