MS Regatta, seen here in Stockholm, visited Rockland earlier this month and brought a certain amount of prosperity with it. Cruise ships are increasingly finding value on the coast of Maine, and vice-versa.by Chris Chase
Coastal Journal staff
ROCKLAND — The cruise-ship season has come to an end for Rockland, but it ended on a positive note for businesses in the region.
Two separate ships, The World and the MS Regatta, visited between October 12 and 15. The MS Regatta was a traditional cruise ship, with passengers being unloaded in Rockland for the day on October 15.
The World is a different ship entirely, and is made up of 200 passengers who live on the ship year-round. It is the largest privately owned residential yacht in the world, and tours various locations across the globe. Its occupants are all wealthy, with the majority of the residents being over 50.
Shari Closter, the Director of Operations at the Penobscot bay Chamber of Commerce, was one of the driving forces behind bringing the ships into the area, and had been personally working on bringing The World into the area since 2005.
“It’s just one economic development tool we have,” said Closter of the cruise ships. “We’ve been really developing this market, and the market has steadily been growing.”
Bruce Gamage, the owner of Antiques Auction Appraiser in Rockland, has been in the area for 40 years, and feels that the efforts to get the cruise ships have been a boon for the city.
“They were very interested in what Rockland’s Main Street had to offer,” said Gamage. “Both ships I thought were a real benefit to Rockland.”
Between the two of them, the ships brought over 800 people into the city, but for some businesses, the influx of people doesn’t translate to an influx of customers.
Toby Anderson-McKay, an employee at Mace’s clothing store, didn’t see much of a change in business from The World, and only a small influx of customers from the MS Regatta.
“You can’t ever tell,” said Anderson-Mckay of the business. “Some days you expect to do well, and then you don’t. Other days you will do great and you don’t know why.”
Jake Dowling, the owner of the Dowling Walsh Gallery, saw an influx of business, but only from The World.
“The World was great,” said Dowling. “The other cruise ships, I have no interest in.”
Dowling feels that a traditional cruise ship has nothing to offer an art gallery like his, due to the nature of the customer, who is typically trying to maximize what they get from their limited vacation funds. Considering it can be difficult to transport unplanned art purchases and the nature of the product he sells, Dowling wasn’t surprised that his business didn’t see much traffic from the MS Regatta.
The World, however, being occupied by the very wealthy, doesn’t behave like a normal cruise ship. Residents don’t have to worry about transporting goods, as they live on the ship, and they stay much longer than a normal cruise ship.
The short time that the MS Regatta and other cruise ships like it stay is also one of the reasons Dowling feels that typical cruise ships don’t help a business like his.
“A bunch of people getting dropped off for 12 hours doesn’t help,” said Dowling. “It’s about coming here and understanding what the place is about.”
David Troup, the communications officer for the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland, on the other hand, saw a great influx of interest on the day the MS Regatta visited.
“We had some very strong crowds,” said Troup. “Monday was one of our best Mondays in October, attendance wise.”
Troup feels that the benefits of cruise ship visitation extend beyond just the initial visit.
“I mean obviously, on just a simple economic level, the more the merrier, having people here is wonderful,” said Troup. “But most of these people were first-time visitors to the area. So they’re experiencing the area, and then we’re able to pass on this information, and then they may come back.”
With modern technology connecting people and allowing people to give reviews of locations that are seen around the world, having people get a positive reaction and spread that to websites can have an impact that isn’t easy to gauge.
“One person visiting and having a wonderful experience is going to generate much more traffic for the future. We’re in a very different day and age,” said Troup. “So having this kind of visitation is beneficial on so many levels for the entire community.”
Closter agreed with Troup’s assessment, and feels bringing people to the area can only have a positive impact.
“Every person that comes, if we make a good impression, they’re going to tell other people,” said Closter. “They’ve never been to Rockland, and many times they’ve never been to the coast of Maine, and they love it.”
Closter also feels that the true impact of a cruise ship is hard to measure, but since no long-term studies have been done, it’s impossible to gauge their long-term impact. However, the short-term boost to the economy is very visible and well known.
In addition to any spending the tourists do, each ship is required to pay a dock fee to the city of Rockland. This fee then goes directly toward further improvement of the dock infrastructure and other economic development, allowing for even more opportunities in the future.
“The fact that they’re here,” said Closter of the ships, “allows the opportunity for them to have an economic impact.”