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Year over year, New Orleans has gained momentum on the cruise front, with more lines and larger ships choosing to call the city’s port home – with 2016 serving as an excellent case in point.
One of the more notable developments for this year was the April debut of Carnival Cruise Line’s 2,754-passenger Carnival Triumph, which will sail on year-round four- and five-day Western Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans. The ship replaced the smaller 2,052-passenger Carnival Elation, joining the 3,646-passenger Carnival Dream, which sails on seven-day Western Caribbean itineraries roundtrip from New Orleans. The positioning of Carnival Triumph in New Orleans has increased the line’s capacity there by 34 percent, and Carnival officials say they expect the ships to bring 450,000 passengers to New Orleans on an annual basis.
In August, French America Line, a new river cruise company, will debut the 150-passenger Louisiane out of New Orleans on Mississippi cruises. The ship formerly operated as the Columbia Queen with Delta Queen Steamboat Company and Majestic America Line.
“The cruise business is one of the New Orleans tourism industry’s focuses, and we have seen a steady increase in cruise passenger numbers,” says Kim Priez, senior vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB). “With the larger Carnival Triumph and the addition of French America Line, we are excited to see what 2016 has to offer for cruise visitation.”
Meanwhile, American Cruise Lines’ America, a new 185-passenger paddle wheeler, kicked off its inaugural season with a Mississippi cruise roundtrip from The Big Easy. America will operate itineraries from the port throughout the year, along with its sister ships, the 150-passenger Queen of the Mississippi and 170-passenger American Eagle.
In 2018, New Orleans will become Viking River Cruises’ first U.S. homeport, with the line expected to deploy two ships per year for a total of six ships entering service over a three-year timeframe.
Other ships with itineraries out of New Orleans this year include Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Dawn, American Steamboat Co.’s American Queen and Crystal Cruises’ Crystal Serenity.
The city continues to rise in popularity as a cruise destination for good reason. “New Orleans’ food, music and relaxed pace makes it the perfect cruise port city. Many say New Orleans is the ‘most northern point in the Caribbean,’” says Priez. “Cruise passengers can begin or end their vacations by enjoying some of our amazing restaurants, or dancing the night away to award-winning music. The cruise ships dock at the foot of the French Quarter, allowing visitors to enjoy two vacations in one – even if they only have a few hours extra to spare.”
Attractions near the port include Harrah’s Casino, the Aquarium of the Americas and the IMAX Theater.
Cruise visitors can also take in the city’s considerable number of festivals that pay homage to New Orleans’ food, culture, music and film on a year-round basis. “The variety of events and festivals continues to grow, with more and more unique festivals being planned every year,” says Priez. “One tip that we like to tell our agents is if their clients are interested in coming to New Orleans, before they choose their dates, agents should really take a look at what’s happening.”
Agents can also promote commissionable pre- and post-cruise packages offered at 15 hotels. “These offers vary from hotel to hotel, but you’ll find complimentary parking for the cruise, discounted room rates, complimentary port shuttles, complimentary breakfast and other perks for your cruise guests,” says Priez, adding that 83 percent of cruise visitors spend at least one night in the city.
The CVB offers webinars and certification programs that are specifically designed to help agents sell cruises out of New Orleans. It is also offering fam trips through Aug. 31, with hotel rates that start at $69. Many of the agent hotel packages include discounted parking, free Wi-Fi, room upgrades and complimentary breakfast. Agents can request VIP passes for discounts at restaurants, museums and attractions. The CVB is expected to offer another series of fam trips over the Christmas holidays.
NEW ORLEANS TOURISM NUMBERS CONTINUE TO CLIMB
If last year’s tourism numbers are any indication, New Orleans has come a very long way since Hurricane Katrina made landfall more than 10 years ago. The city welcomed 9.78 million visitors in 2015, an increase of 2.7 percent over 2014, and visitor spending rose $7.05 billion, which represents a 3.5 percent increase, according to the 2015 New Orleans Area Visitor Profile study.
In 2004, New Orleans welcomed 10.1 million visitors, who spent $4.9 billion. By contrast, in 2006 visitor numbers dropped to 3.7 million and spending to $2.9 billion. Since 2010, visitor spending in New Orleans has increased by nearly 33 percent, according to the study.
”The tourism industry has invested in New Orleans and the impact is a better experience for the visitors,” notes Kim Priez, senior vice president of tourism for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Our hotels are undergoing multiple renovations and more than 17 new hotel properties, like the Four Seasons, are in the works,” says Priez. The study found that travelers who overnighted in hotels spent an average of $1,011 per person, per trip and stayed 4.2 nights in 2015.
”It’s an exciting time for New Orleans, and I think visitors can really feel that energy,” says Priez.