It works in Santa Barbara, why can’t it work here?

That’s the motto behind Steve Kent of Kent Events and Tours’ plot to bring some of the cruise industry’s behemoth ships to Newport Beach, fetching massive tourist dollars in the process.

“This is something Newport Beach can capitalize on,” Kent said. “Each ship has a lot of tourists and tourist dollars. We’d like to get some of them.”

His plan was outlined at a recent Newport Beach Harbor Commission meeting, where Kent proposed inviting cruise ship companies to add Newport Beach to its list of West Coast ports of call, bringing the large vessels and their thousands of guests to disembark at the beachside community.

The ships, which carry anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 passengers, would anchor about one-half-mile outside of Newport Harbor’s entrance, then ferry passengers to the harbor using smaller vessels — similar to how cruise liners disembark at current cruise destinations like Santa Catalina Island and Santa Barbara.

“The whole idea came up when my wife was on a cruise with her friends from Los Angeles to Ensenada, and when they stopped in Catalina, they wondered, ‘Why are we stopping here? There’s so much more to do in Newport,'” said Kent, who, along with his wife, Barbara, has been running tourism programs in Orange County since 1981.

The cruise ship’s tender vessels that typically carry around 150 passengers per boat could potentially offload passengers at the Balboa Pavilion docks. Once on land, the passengers would be set free to spend freely at the local shops and restaurants and journey out for bus tours, trips to local beaches, Fashion Island and more, Kent said.

With the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Harbor Patrol giving a preliminary nod of approval on the plan, and owners at Balboa Pavilion showing interest for its docks to be used by the tenders, Kent’s next step is to gain interest from the cruise line companies and explain why Newport Beach is a destination worth stopping for. The process could still be a couple years out, as cruise liners’ itineraries are often already set one to two years ahead of schedule.

Rochelle McReynolds and Tom Pollack, capital campaign managers for the ExplorOcean Museum — located adjacent to the Balboa Pavilion docks — said the cruise ship plan could be a benefit to the harbor community businesses, as long as it is kept in check.

“I think it could definitely work, but it depends on the scale,” McReynolds said. “Once they get their foot in the door, will they increase the number of trips? They’d have to have a cap on that.”

The plan comes at a time when cruise ship companies are expanding their West Coast and North American cruise itineraries, focusing on shorter, more flexible three- to seven-day cruises compared to the traditional 10- to 15-day excursions.

Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruises have both announced expansions of their West Coast itineraries, introducing three- and four-day cruises out of Long Beach and Los Angeles Harbors.

“We’ve offered more California coastal cruises recently; they’re extremely popular with our passengers. They’re excited that they get to see so much of the Golden State,” said Princess Cruises spokeswoman Karen Candy.

But Terry Thornton, Carnival Cruise Liners senior vice president of deployment, said Newport Beach as a cruise destination might not make sense for the company.

“Many of the guests that sail on our West Coast ships reside in Orange County,” Thornton said.

Despite the concern, the shorter, faster cruises could make Newport Beach a viable option for other cruise lines, as demand for cruises south of the border wanes.

“With the perception of crime in Mexico, there’s been a shift in the demand of West Coast itineraries,” said Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce president Gary Sherwin. “We’re just getting started on this, and we’ve got a lot of legwork to do, but we think it could be a path worth pursuing.”

The shift led to Santa Barbara jumping on the cruise ship bandwagon, welcoming its first cruise ship to its coastline back in 2002. The project has been a success, with ships from Celebrity and Princess Cruises planning to call on the “American Riviera” 22 times in 2013, doubling last year’s total.

“It’s estimated that each couple spends $200 during a cruise ship visit; that’s serious change when you’re talking 2,000 passengers,” said Santa Barbara Waterfront director Mick Kronman, who noted that about 80 percent of cruise ship passengers disembark at each overnight stop.

Kronman noted that the success of Santa Barbara’s cruise ship program was due in large part to the groundwork laid prior to the ships’ arrivals. By working with the city, cruise ship agents, local communities and environmentalists, a program has been established to ensure the cruise lines meet special safety and security requirements, coordinate with local tourism companies, disembark at the designated docks, and do not dump any waste within 12 miles of the coast — 9 miles farther out than required by state law.

In Newport Beach, Kent has begun laying that groundwork.

“Most of the cruise ships stop for just one day, and we could give them a taste of what Newport is,” Kent said. “And who knows? When they take a vacation later, they could remember Newport and plan a whole trip here.”

(c)2013 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Photo Credit: The Balboa Pavilion docks in Newport Beach, California. Grant Montgomery / Flickr