Port of Galveston has the foresight for success

Rodger Rees speaks with Elly Yates-Roberts about the Port of Galveston’s achievements and initiatives for further improvements

Port of Galveston has the foresight for success

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Rodger Rees has seen significant milestones in Galveston’s cruise industry since becoming the Texan port’s director and CEO a little over a year ago. “My first year was definitely a happy one – we had a lot of good things happen,” he says.

The port not only welcomed a record 990,000 cruise passengers, but it also hosted its 10-millionth passenger.

“The whole experience was heart-warming; it was the passenger’s first-ever cruise and he had his entire family with him – his mother, father, children and wife,” says Rees. “They were sailing on a Carnival Cruise Line ship and were treated very well – Carnival even gave them access to amenities onboard for free. Local businesses also got involved, contributing a weekend’s stay for the family. It was a really big event for us.” These numbers are evidence enough of the efficacy of Galveston’s cruise model and its location, but with 71% of passengers driving for up to a day to embark on a cruise from the port, Rees believes that Galveston’s cruising industry is just in its infancy.

“I think our biggest news is the signing of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd,” he says.

In December 2018, the port signed an agreement with Royal Caribbean to build a 200,000 square-foot terminal on 10 acres of the port’s land. The agreement states that Royal Caribbean will operate the terminal for an initial period of 20 years, with four 10-year options after that. “As a port, we feel that Royal Caribbean is going to be here for at least the next 60 years,” says Rees.

Royal Caribbean’s US$100 million investment to construct the terminal by 2021 will be matched by US$10 million from the port to maintain the berth and provide around 2,000 parking spaces to accommodate the influx of cruise passengers. “The new terminal will not only accommodate Royal Caribbean’s largest vessels from its Oasis class, but also the next largest ships which are currently on the drawing board,” says Rees. Further to that, the port has entered into a 10-year homeporting agreement with Disney Cruise Line, with an option to extend for an additional 10 years. “I think this came as a result of the MOU with Royal Caribbean,” Rees says. “Halfway through the agreement, Disney will be averaging around 26 calls each year. Previously we wouldn’t have had the capacity for a line like Disney, but moving Royal Caribbean’s ships to its new terminal will create more capacity for other cruise lines in Cruise Terminal 2.”

Despite these major achievements Rees is not getting complacent. “We believe that as a result of these agreements, we will welcome over one million passengers in 2019, and with this increase in cruise guests, the city and surrounding area may be subject to traffic issues.”

As such, the port is working to tackle these problems. Global ro-ro carrier, Wallenius Wilhelmsen currently resides on the land for Royal Caribbean’s terminal. Its heavy equipment is transported out of the port by truck, creating a lot of HGV traffic. “In order to tackle this, we are negotiating to move Wilhelmsen to the west end of the port, keeping the truck traffic away from the cruise passengers,” says Rees. “We also have some ambitious plans to renovate the prospective road for this traffic. At over 100 years old, it is not fit for purpose and we have received a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to rebuild half so that it will be able to safely carry the HGV traffic.”

The port’s overhead walkway is also currently under construction. “Having been damaged in Hurricane Harvey in August 2017 we are now rebuilding it and adding escalators to each end,” says. “We will be able to move passengers over the main road to the terminals which will improve their safety.”

Considering the port’s current popularity, Disney’s extra port calls and Royal Caribbean’s terminal, the port is expected to double the number of cruise guests it receives in the next eight to ten years to around two million. As such, the port created a masterplan to outline the necessary future steps, including the need for a fourth terminal.

“Galveston is already a popular tourist destination and with over 200 years of history behind it, welcomed seven million tourists in 2018,” says Rees. “The masterplan intends to integrate the city’s history and port-side old town into its commercial development plans, with the option of providing extra amenities such as hotels, restaurants and retail opportunities for the budding cruise business. It will address the impact of the new cruise terminal and Disney’s increased visits on the city, as well as environmental issues and what are the best commodities to bring into the port in terms of land-leasing.”

Galveston’s citizens were invited to give their input on the port’s plans when the first draft of the masterplan was released at the end of February.

“There continues to be big opportunities for cruise and cargo business in Galveston, and we are setting the stage to achieve those goals,” says Rees.

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Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts
Thursday, May 30, 2019