This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Located on the Gulf Coast of Texas and steeped in history, Galveston sits in a heavily populated part of the US. The Port of Galveston is already one of the busiest in the country, but newly appointed port director Rodger Rees sees a wealth of opportunities.
Having previously served as chief financial officer at Port Canaveral in Florida, Rees believes he has the financial background and intricate knowledge of the cruise industry to help increase revenue at the port.
“The Port of Galveston had more than 1.8 million cruise passengers in 2017 and I think, with my experience and relationship with the cruise lines, I can help enhance that,” Rees says. “There are infrastructure needs here, but during my time at Port Canaveral we did a lot of new construction. I’m confident that I’ll be able to use this experience positively at the Port of Galveston.”
Rees says that the development of a new cruise terminal at Galveston is a distinct possibility. His team is currently speaking with cruise lines interested in coming in and expanding their business at the port.
“We’re in talks with a cruise line right now about facilitating a larger class of cruise ship in Galveston,” he explains. “The largest cruise ships can carry more than 6,000 passengers, with about 2,000 crew members. We’re looking into the possibility of building a terminal that will allow the Port of Galveston to accomodate that size of ship.”
Assuming those negotiations have a positive outcome, Rees expects a new facility to be in place that can service the largest cruise ships by 2021.
“We have Carnival and Royal Caribbean calling here regularly and Disney calling seasonally, and so in the future we’ll be looking to expand to welcome other lines,” Rees says. “Last year we hosted a German line for a port of call, and we are looking for more opportunities like this as part of our expansion plans. I see that in the future – probably not as big as our homeporting business but certainly important to us.”
The possibility of enhancing Galveston as a port of call is a promising strategy, with regular meetings already underway to discuss the best approach to take.
“The port of call business is dependent on the port being in the path of cruise lines,” Rees says. “Though we are starting to have success with it, our major focus is to enhance Galveston as a destination area. We’re talking about pre- and post-cruise opportunities for our guests. We see people coming in a couple of days early or staying late. We have a great beach here, and this town has a lot of history, and you can see that in Galveston’s architecture and the many attractions visitors can enjoy.”
One approach that will help to facilitate growth is reorganising areas of the port in order to better meet the needs of the respective cruise and cargo businesses.
“We could concentrate our cruise business on the south side of the port, which is where the city of Galveston is,” Rees says. “I think we could possibly introduce two new cruise terminals in the next decade or so. We’ll need to relocate different businesses to different parts of the port, but this will be hugely beneficial.”
The Port of Galveston owns more than 450 acres on Pelican Island, which sits to the north of the city.
“I see potential to concentrate our cargo business there, and there’s a strong possibility that a new bridge to Pelican Island will be built in the near future, which would help with that,” Rees says. “That would allow us to have the cargo and cruise parts of the port business at optimal locations within Galveston.”
While enhancing the port from an infrastructure perspective is important, Rees believes business development will be just as vital to the success of the Port of Galveston moving forward.
“We’re located 45 minutes from Houston, which has six million citizens,” he says. “One thing I will look to do is enhance marketing to that population. Within a day’s drive of Galveston you’ve got approximately 20 million people living in cities like Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio, for example. I’ll be looking to develop our relationship with that relatively local market.”
The cruise industry relies heavily on travel agents, says Rees. As such, he is aiming to improve marketing directly to travel agents.
“I understand that around 80% of cruise passengers still book through these travel agents, so it makes sense to do some direct marketing with travel agents in Texas,” Rees says.
Though relatively new to the role, Rees has confidence that the Port of Galveston is moving in a positive direction. It is something he is determined to contribute to.
“I think we have great staff here,” Rees concludes. “I’m optimistic about the future. There’s a lot of potential and, although there are some challenges, the port is on a great trajectory. I’m really excited about being here.”