The Florida Department of Transportation has released a pre-feasibility study regarding the cruise industry in Tampa Bay. In essence, it said that in the next 10 years the majority of ships from all the major cruise lines will not be able to sail under the Sunshine Skyway Bridge due to height restrictions.
First, we applaud the department and Port Tampa Bay for having the vision to look ahead and address an issue before it becomes a problem and it is too late to react.
Here are some facts that we know about cruising. In 2012, cruising generated more than $42 billion in gross revenue and created more than 356,000 jobs nationally. Florida represented one-sixth of the national economic impact, $7 billion.
Port Tampa Bay is the nation's eighth-largest cruise port, with close to $380 million in economic activity and 854,000 passengers visiting in fiscal year 2013. It home-ports four cruise lines (Carnival, Holland America, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian) with five ships. And they continue to grow. The port will be adding a second Royal Caribbean ship, the Vision of the Seas, this fall. Royal Caribbean is even adding new itineraries, which will include nine- and 10-day eastern and southern Caribbean cruises in 2015 and 2016. Port Tampa Bay will also see port of call visits from new customer and German cruise line Aida Cruises starting in late 2014.
The cruise industry is an important part of Port Tampa Bay's portfolio of business. The port's various lines of business continue to make it the largest economic engine in the region and help our economic development agencies attract new business. Port Tampa Bay, with its $15.1 billion in annual economic activity and 80,000 direct, indirect and related jobs, is a key component of our region's future growth opportunities.
Each year, Port Tampa Bay ranks among the highest in customer satisfaction with its cruise passengers, and when you couple that with our world-renowned and award-winning airport, you get a winning combination that few cities or regions possess. The port, cruise industry and travel industry leaders expect continued growth in the cruise business for Port Tampa Bay in the near term, approaching (and possibly surpassing) a million passengers each year.
However, based on the Department of Transportation study, if the region does not take action in the future, the lost economic opportunity is close to $1 billion of economic impact, and nearly 5,000 direct, indirect and related jobs annually. That is a huge opportunity which might literally sail to states like Texas and Louisiana if we do not do anything.
With that, we, along with our regional and community partners fully endorse taking the next step, which would be a more in-depth study to look at all the options related to address the air draft situation so that the port can continue being a top 10 cruise destination. The second phase of the study will address the impacts, economic and environmental, for the various solutions, so that the community can have an educated discussion while looking toward the future of the region. Joe Lopano, CEO of Tampa International Airport; Stuart Rogel, CEO of Tampa Bay Partnership; Bob Rohrlack, president and CEO of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce; and Bob Sharpe, chairman of the board (retired) of the Auto Club Group, agree on this approach.
We are excited as this region continues to be a leader for our great state in growth and opportunities. Port Tampa Bay plays a very important role for that growth, and we look forward to working with them to make our region the premier place to live, work and play for years to come.
Santiago Corrada is president and CEO of Visit Tampa Bay. Rick Homans is president and CEO of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Council. They wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.