Task Force Courts Cruise Ship Industry

Gulfport is getting much closer to attracting a cruise ship to the coast.

That's the word from leaders of a local task force that's been courting the cruise ship industry for more than a year. They say executives from several major companies have expressed a serious interest in making the coast a port-of-call for one of their luxury liners.

A visit from the Carnival Cruise Ship "Sensation" to the State Port a year ago proved that Gulfport can handle such a luxury ship.

"We're in a great location. We have a superb harbor. We're very close to the water, not like some other ports where you have to go up rivers or whatever to get to them. That's not our problem," said task force co chairman, Al Hopkins.

The first "problem" for the task force was letting the cruise ship industry know that Gulfport has a port quite capable of handling vessels besides just commercial cargo, like banana boats. That message has been delivered. Port officials are now working on the next step: a specific plan for accommodating a cruise ship like the "Sensation".

"We will be able to go to these people who are already interested in us and give them specifics as to what we can offer. When we can do it, and then we'll be able to negotiate the terms we want to bring cruise lines into the Gulf Coast," said Hopkins.

Gulfport is courting the cruise ship industry at an opportune time. This coming year, some 70 new cruise ships will be coming on line. And those new ships will be considering various ports of call.

The mayor of Gulfport co chairs the cruise ship task force. He says the "Sensation" visit was just a small sample of the tourism boost the industry could bring.

"When we were talking to the people in Alaska, a population in a town of about 817 and for four months out of the year they had 600 thousand people there with a net income base, tax base of about 69 million dollars in business," said Mayor Bob Short.

It's the kind of business task force leaders envision for the state port's future.