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Charleston is a hotbed of cruise discussion not only about how big is too big, but about the real value cities get out of being a cruis ship port of call.

Cruise passengers can overwhelm historic cities, causing congestion and chasing off other visitors who mean more to local economies, those attending an international conference on cruise tourism were told Thursday.

Visitors who arrive by car or air and stay in hotels and eat in local restaurants are more valuable to local economies than those coming by ship, speakers told about 100 people attending “Harboring Tourism: A Symposium on Cruise Ships in Historic Port Communities.”

This year the number of people cruising worldwide is expected to increase. Booking dropped last year after the Costa Concordia capsized off the Italian coast, killing 32 people.

The conference is sponsored by the World Monuments Fund, the Preservation Society of Charleston and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Amos Bien, technical director for the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, said studies of ports in Central America show that cruise passengers mean about $55 a day for the local economy, compared to more than $100 for those who stay in the cities. The industry generated about $19 million for Costa Rica in 1995 while other tourists meant $2.1 billion to the economy, he said.

The Thursday discussion ranged from the impact of cruises in Key West, Fla., to Croatia, Norway and Charleston.

Ross Klein of Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada, said the industry in Key West grew from 133,000 passengers in 1990 to 1 million in 2004. In Dubrovnik, Croatia, when several cruise ships dock at a time as many as 10,000 passengers can be trying to enter the walled city of about 42,000, he said.

“It’s your city and don’t lose focus in terms of what’s in your best interest,” Klein said. He said there’s little evidence those who visit a city on a cruise later return.

This year there’s expected to be 2,300 port calls with 3 million passengers visiting the fjords of western Norway.

“When the cruise industry gets too big, it weakens the land-based product,” Christian Jorgensen of Fjord Norway, a tourist promotion board said, adding other tourists may not visit if the fjords become too crowded.

Economist Harry Miley last year compiled a report on the Charleston cruise industry suggesting while the city’s historic areas deals with passengers, traffic and congestion, the city gets only a fraction of the surrounding region’s economic benefit from cruises. Several lawsuits have been filed over Charleston’s year-round cruises.

“The cruise industry needs Charleston a lot more than Charleston needs the cruise industry,” he said.

However, another report commissioned by the South Carolina State Ports Authority estimated the impact of cruises at $37 million annually.

Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy here three years ago, creating a year-round cruise industry.

Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. has said the city has long been a careful steward of tourism and is handling the cruise industry in the same way.

The city has a voluntary agreement with the Ports Authority that the city will be consulted if the industry grows beyond its present size of 85 to 100 port calls a year. Opponents of the industry want that a binding legal agreement.

Copyright (2013) Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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Tags: tourism

Photo credit: In this July 25, 2012 photo, the cruise liner Carnival Fantasy calls in Charleston, S.C. Bruce Smith / Associated Press

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