PORTLAND – Walking around the Old Port on Monday, you couldn’t miss the cruise ship visitors.

With half-opened maps and dark blue “Maine Passports” in hand, they were the folks lingering at the window displays and crowding the shops and restaurants during their daylong visit.

From all that bustle, you wouldn’t guess that Kansas, Utah and Ohio see more cruise-ship revenue than Maine, but a survey released last week reports that they do.

Maine, in fact, ranks just 41st among the states and Washington, D.C., in economic benefit from the cruise ship industry. No state on the Atlantic Ocean ranks lower.

“Forty-first? Really?” said a surprised Jessica Rosario, a supervisor at Cool as a Moose, a T-shirt and souvenir shop in the Old Port.

That figure doesn’t jibe with how busy the store gets when a cruise ship is in town, she said.

“We just keep on getting giant groups of people,” Rosario said Monday, in between ringing up sales from a steady stream of customers.

The report, by the Cruise Lines International Association, tallies all expenditures by cruise lines, passengers and crew members. It includes all goods and services associated with cruising, such as advertising, maintenance and repair of vessels, food and beverage sales, even airline tickets.

A company that makes bar soap for the bathroom or stationary that is in every stateroom drawer gets an economic boost from the industry – and that company could be located in any state.

According to the report, Maine receives $24 million in spending by the cruise industry, resulting in 381 jobs and $12 million in wage income for Maine workers. That accounts for 0.1 percent of the industry’s spending nationally.

Nationwide, the cruise industry produces $38 billion in economic benefit for the United States, including $18.7 billion on goods and services, and $15.4 billion in total wages, the report found.

Local cruise ship experts aren’t too concerned, though.

They said the report is fairly general and estimates various states’ spending, without doing any detailed calculations. In-state surveys and studies provide a more accurate accounting, they said.

A new Maine report is due in January, said author and economist Todd Gabe, an associate professor of economics at the University of Maine.

Gabe said that he had not read last week’s report, but that any study of the nationwide impact of an industry averages and generalizes figures.

“Anytime there is a nationwide study, they don’t get the details for smaller states. We have a small population, and so we have fewer people taking cruises. That’s why Maine winds up lower,” he said. “Illinois is a large population state and a lot of people from midwestern states take cruises.”

Calls to the association for comment were not returned.

Gabe said a rough estimate of the industry’s economic benefit indicates that Maine received more than the $24 million identified by the industry association.

“Based on the activity we have in port, Maine is much higher than 41st,” said Gabe, who works with the University of Maine’s Center for Tourism Research and Outreach. In 2005, cruise ships brought in $20.4 million to Portland and Bar Harbor alone.

Last year, activity was up almost 50 percent from 2005, he said.

Ships also visit smaller harbors, including Rockland, Camden and Belfast.

In 2008, Bar Harbor had 107 ships visit, with 146,817 passengers, compared to about 100,000 passengers in 2005. Portland, the state’s second busiest port, has had 31 ships visit, with 53,735 passengers.

Those passengers spend about $100 a day in port, according to a 2005 University of Maine study.

Amy Powers of CruiseMaine, which markets the state’s cruise ship ports, said the ranking is on par with previous reports from the Cruise Lines International Association. But setting aside the numbers, Maine had a record number of cruise visits this year, she said.

Portland also opened a $21 million cruise ship terminal this year.

“Even in this economy, we are still able to capture tourists because of the cruise industry,” Powers said.

Powers said she looks forward to seeing Gabe’s report on Maine’s cruise industry.

“It could tell a completely different story,” she said. “We’re kind of waiting to see what (his) report is going to say.”

Sandra Needham said she relies on her own numbers as executive director of Discover Portland and Beyond, a state-funded group that promotes cruise ship excursions to tourist destinations, including Kennebunkport, Freeport and New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

“Those numbers aren’t as important as what I see in front of me, and we have more than 40 ships already booked for next year,” she said.

“We are in a really good position. Our region is doing well.”


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