Cruise lines are big business. The Maryland Port Administration estimates the 13 cruise ships that docked in Baltimore in 1991 brought over 7,000 tourists here, generating some $2.6 million for the local economy. No wonder Gov. William Donald Schaefer stresses the importance of making Baltimore a more important East Coast cruise center.
The benefits from cruise lines go far beyond what is usually associated with shipping, such as re-fueling, the tugboats and the dockside work crews. Passengers aboard these ocean liners spend an average of $337 during a port stay.
Three years ago, the MPA created a task force, bringing together representatives from the tourist industry, state and local governments and the U.S. Customs Service. The group has had some success. In 1992, 17 ships either departed or docked at the Dundalk Marine Terminal, a 23 percent increase from the prior year. The increase was attributed to the task force's effort to contact cruise lines directly to make their Baltimore pitch, their confidence that the state's ban on gambling on cruise ships would be lifted and the possibility of a new cruise terminal near the Inner Harbor.
Sure enough, this past session the General Assembly lifted the ban on cruise-ship gambling during the six-hour trip up the Chesapeake (but not while in port). The Inner Harbor terminal project also has progressed, though slowly. A feasibility report will be ready in late September or early October.
And yet, these efforts haven't produced sustained results. After one good cruise season, Baltimore is back in the doldrums. As of June, only 12 ships either used or are scheduled to use Baltimore in 1993.
The cruise-line task force will meet with airline representatives next month to promote the advantages of air-cruise tie-ins from Baltimore. That may yield some long-range results, but a new terminal remains the key missing link. Without a convenient landing dock near Inner Harbor tourist destinations, Baltimore will continue to struggle in its bid to attract cruise liners. Construction of such a facility would give an enormous lift to downtown hotels, restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. It would add yet another source of tourist dollars to the region's economy.