Port of Galveston: Building for the future

Charlie Game hears from Rodger Rees about his first seven months as director at Port of Galveston, and how the port is planning for the future

Port of Galveston: Building for the future
New construction of pier extension and mooring dolphins to accommodate larger ships, such as Carnival Vista

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Rodger Rees is seven months into his role as port director at the Port of Galveston in Texas, US and there is no sign of his enthusiasm for the role having dimmed since he took over in January. Rather, Rees is effusive about the potential for growing cruising in Galveston and he has big plans for the future. 

“I came to Port of Galveston because of the huge opportunities I saw,” says Rees. “We’re 40 minutes from the city of Houston, which has a population of six million, and there are 20 million people living within a day’s drive of the port so there’s a huge source market there for cruise lines. Currently, the port is under-utilised for the cruise customer.” 

Rees’ excitement is shared by the cruise industry. “I had conversations with the cruise lines before I took the position, and they had indicated to me that the Galveston market was one of their big target markets, just because of the huge opportunity here.”

With opportunities come challenges, and Rees has been working hard since his appointment to make Galveston ready to take the next steps. To that end, the Port of Galveston has commissioned Bermello Ajamil & Partners to carry out master planning services and deliver a plan that will carry the port into the next several decades. “It’s pretty extensive and will probably take us about nine months to complete,” says Rees.

First, Bermello Ajamil will look at the port’s cruise operations and undertake a complete assessment of Galveston’s infrastructure. “Right now, we’re giving the team a lot of information to familiarise people with the port operations, and then we want to determine the best use for some of our land as it relates to cruise terminals,” says Rees.

Extensive changes have already been made in preparation for the arrival of Carnival Vista, the first in Carnival Cruise Line’s largest ship class, this September. “The main reason we’ve upgraded our terminals is that Carnival Vista arrives in September,” explains Rees. “We’ve put in new extensions of the berths, new moorings and a new second-floor walkway to the gangways to the ships. And, because the ship is longer and heavier than previous visitors, we’ve also had to reinforce the berth.” 

These updates alone are significant, but Rees is determined to look well ahead and to build a port infrastructure which is ready not only for today’s cruise liners, but also the ships of tomorrow. Carnival is currently constructing its LNG-powered XL-class ships, so the port has this in mind when it is planning future infrastructure improvements. “In the event that we could get one of those ships in the future, we want to be ready for that,” states Rees. “We’re really forward-thinking in terms of not only getting it ready for Carnival Vista, but also getting it ready for any new ships which are yet to be built.” 

It’s not only upgrades. The port already has two terminals, and plans for a third are well underway, as Port of Galveston considers locations for a new terminal which could accommodate the world’s largest passenger ships, Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis class. Rees also wants to build more: “We believe that there is the potential for five cruise terminals here at Galveston.”  

Planning for so many passengers is no easy task, something Rees appreciates. “You really need to make sure you have enough space to disembark, particularly when you have a ship going in on a Saturday morning and you have 6,000 passengers getting off, and 6,000 passengers getting on,” he says.

However, as the port prepares to welcome its 10 millionth passenger this November, Rees is confident that Galveston is more than ready for increased visitor numbers. “Galveston welcomes seven million tourists a year, so we have a very robust tourist industry,” he explains. “There are lots of historic buildings that are filled with restaurants and shops and all types of hospitality venues. Our downtown is within walking distance to the cruise terminals, and the closer you have your passengers embarking and disembarking, the easier it is.”

It is clear then, that the cruise industry is central to Port of Galveston’s future, but what can the city offer to the cruise lines and their passengers?

“Galveston has a lot of character,” says Rees. “The city itself has a lot of history going back to the 1800s when it was part of Mexico, so I think that’s the draw for people to come here.”

The port’s location is also an advantage. “We’re ideally located – we’re the only cruise port in Texas, and Texas is the second largest US state in terms of population,” says Rees, adding that this is something he is determined to capitalise on with the help of key cruise industry players. “The cruise lines do a lot of marketing themselves, but I believe that it should be a joint effort. Over the next 12 months, we will hire an additional marketing person who will complement the cruise lines’ marketing people. When you’re located 40 minutes’ drive from six million people, I think you have to increase your marketing efforts locally.”

Of course, the port still aims to draw passengers from far further afield. “When you walk through our parking facilities here, you can see the license plates from all the surrounding states – Kansas, Louisiana, Arizona, Oklahoma and Colorado – because they’re all within a day’s drive,” says Rees. “Owing to the marketplace and some of the conversations we’ve had with other cruise lines, we believe that we’re prime market for them. The projected growth of the cruise industry itself is big. It’s been growing double digits here for the past several years and this will continue well into the future.” 

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By Guest
24 December 2018

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