Port: Record year for cruises will lift city’s economic ship

More than 50,000 cruise ship passengers will flood The City's waterfront this month, during the peak season of what is expected to be a record year for an industry aggressively courted by the Port of San Francisco.

Port Maritime Director Peter Daly said Tuesday that during the weeks between May 8 and May 23, about 20 cruise ships will visit The City, bringing with them a total of about 52,000 passengers. Fifteen different cruise lines are expected to make 90 calls in San Francisco this year, transporting about 238,000 passengers, up from 197,573 just three years ago.

“One of these big cruise ships is the equivalent of seven 747s unloading passengers right in the heart of the city,” Daly said.”

The 850- to 900-foot vessels usually dock at The City's main terminal at Pier 35, sometimes stopping at Pier 27 when the traffic is heavy. They bring with them anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 passengers each, and are estimated to deliver about $750,000 to $1 million in revenue at each call. The port has been working to develop its cruise traffic as a way to boost The City’s largest industry — tourism.

“There's a lot of cruise ships out there that are looking for market niches, and obviously cities that are popular tourist destinations are popular calls for those ships,” said Jim Lazarus, vice president in charge of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

The money generated by these visitors boosts The City's economy, but the current main cruise ship terminal is close to reaching its capacity. Located at Pier 35, the terminal was built in 1914, and is not designed to handle modern ships that only promise to get bigger and deeper. The City has plans to build a new terminal at piers 30 and 32.

“We need a bigger welcome mat,” Daly said.

The port has added another revenue stream by increasing its dry dock capabilities in recent years, offering repairs before ships continue to their seasonal destination. But the revenue from repairs and berthing fees barely turns a profit for the port, reaping just $200,000 or so in profit per year.

“We [the port] just about break even on this business,” Daly said. “The real payback for The City is in that $60 million net.”

Thomas George, a taxicab driver and chairman of the United Taxicab Drivers, said, “I'm getting maybe three cruise ship passengers a week. I'm one of 1,400 cabs [in The City], so that's a lot.” He said the increased business could not be relied on as a steady income stream because it isn't regularly paced and most tourists don't stay for very long. “But you get some good rides out of it.”

amartin@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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