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September 14, 2023

Pilot program will help manage busy cruise ship season in Portland

File photo / Alexis Wells The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl is shown docked at the Maine State Pier in Portland Harbor.

Cruise Portland will launch a pilot program Sept. 21 to help the city better cope with the impact of its busy fall cruise ship season.

PortShare Promise will provide safety and traffic congestion management tools and a feedback hotline to collect comments, concerns and compliments from community members and visitors.  

The program will manage vehicular and pedestrian traffic flow on Commercial Street, with the help of traffic safety personnel from Laborers' International Union Local 327 at the busiest crosswalks. In addition, Cruise Portland will offer a free hop-on-hop-off shuttle, enabling visitors to visit city sites along Washington, Fox, Congress and Commercial streets. 

In addition to Cruise Portland, supporting the tourism promotion are the city of Portland, CruiseMaine, Visit Portland, Visit Freeport and the Kennebunk/Kennebunkport and Arundel Chamber of Commerce. 

Big spending

Portland is a popular cruise stop that typically sees 80 ships between the end of August and November.

The ship calls generate over $3 million per year in tariffs and fees. Port services, ship purchases and passenger and crew spending in Greater Portland amount to an estimated $15 million annually. Restaurants, shops and vendors reap the spending, as do the region’s harbor pilots, dockers and tug operators. 

“With more than 157,000 people visiting Portland and surrounding areas by cruise ship during our peak fall season, we have an opportunity to introduce folks from around the world to southern Maine,” said Visit Portland Executive Director Lynn Tillotson.

“However, our commitment remains with our community, and the surge in pedestrian and bus traffic that occurs on cruise days has led us to seek best practices across the industry to help manage congestion. We turned to Juneau [Alaska], a city much smaller than Portland that receives more than 1.5 million visitors per year, to learn what has helped them greatly improve community impact during significant growth in cruise visits.”

Juneau has a population of 32,255.

A 2022 study by the Maine Office of Tourism showed that during 240 days of cruise ship operations across eight ports, Maine had over 370,000 passengers and thousands of crew members. Around 54% of them were first-time visitors and around $30 million was spent ashore.

“Cruise passengers come to visit Maine from across the nation and the world, different from those who arrive by car, who come largely from within a 250-mile radius or less,” said Sarah Flink, executive director of CruiseMaine. “Almost 30% of cruise visitors want to return to Maine on a longer trip, and that’s about the most cost-effective tourism promotion we have.”

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