Business & Economy,
January 10th, 2012
By Rick Jervis
Saturday mornings at the Port of New Orleans are a rush of activity. Passengers, fresh off Mexican or Caribbean vacations, stream off cruise ships and into cabs for trips into the city. Port employees steer the crowds into the proper lanes. Tour guides corral their groups into waiting vans.
The port hasn’t seen this level of tourist bustle since before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, unleashing floods across the city and chasing away most of the cruise business.
The return late last year of three major ships — the 2,052-passenger Elation and 2,974-passenger Conquest, both from Carnival Cruise Lines, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s 3,114-passenger Voyager of the Seas — is driving up cruise business even beyond pre-Katrina levels. The port is likely to host more than 1 million cruise passengers this year, up from 750,000 just before Katrina, according to port statistics.
The arrival of the ships, along with new paddle-wheel boats that will offer cruises up the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast this year, signals the return of the river as a viable economic engine, says Gary LaGrange, Port of New Orleans president and chief executive. Nearly one-fourth of the port’s revenue comes from the cruise ships, he says.