A “word cloud” created from comments in the 2016 University of Maine study of the economic impacts of cruise ship visitation. Words that appear larger were used more often by survey respondents. IMAGE COURTESY OF TOWN OF BAR HARBOR

Ship impact $20+ million

BAR HARBOR — Passengers on cruise ships visiting Bar Harbor in 2016 spent about $15 million while here, for an estimated economic impact of $20.2 million, according to a study by University of Maine economists.

The study results come as the town is embroiled in debate over the cruise ship industry and a plan to convert the former international ferry terminal facility on Eden Street to a cruise terminal.

Professors Todd Gabe and James McConnon, who led the study, told councilors Feb. 21 that their numbers account for passenger expenditures on meals and drinks, shore excursions, souvenirs, etc., and “the multiplier effects associated with the economic activity of businesses (and their workers) where the visitors spend their money.

The figures do not include passenger fees paid to the town ($686,472 in 2016) or spending by crew or the cruise lines themselves.

The team handed out surveys to cruise passengers as they arrived at Harbor Place or the Harborside dock and asked respondents to return them by mail. 2,231 surveys were returned, a 47 percent response rate.

They estimated that 138,285 cruise ship passengers got off the ships during the season, about 87 percent of the combined passenger capacity of the ships of 163,000. (The town charges passenger fees based on the ship’s capacity.)

Beginning in the 2017 season, the Harbormaster’s office plans to collect data on how many passengers come ashore from each ship using a new port of call summary form approved by the council.

Councilor Anne Greenlee noted that if 2 million people visited Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park over the season, those cruise ship passengers only represent 8-10 percent of the total.

Residents have been concerned about crowding, Councilor Matt Hochman said, but “if cruise ships are such a small percentage of total visitation, are they really the issue, or is it something else?”

The survey tracked where in town people explored by asking respondents if they had walked past certain landmarks. A total of 44 percent said they had walked on the shore path, but only 10 percent got as far as the Hannaford grocery on Cottage Street or the Havana restaurant on Main Street.

Councilors asked how passengers’ experiences would be different if they disembarked at the ferry terminal pier.

“Where people enter a town matters as far as where they go,” Gabe said. “I imagine there would be a bunch of different tradeoffs – if you don’t see a lot from the ship, you might be less likely to get off.”

McConnon said the town’s new wayfinding signs have been helpful for visitors, and he recommended coordinating with the cruise lines to help passengers use them, as well as expanded use of tools like QR codes to get information to passengers on their smartphones.

He said a large majority of respondents said they consulted online materials to decide where to go and what to do. Many of them also kept track of how many steps they take in a day for fitness reasons, he said, and information services could offer walking distances in steps as well as miles.

“The age of having a bunch of brochures out for people to take is over,” he said. Entrepreneurial opportunities abound here. This demographic is one that has a thirst for knowledge and information.”


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

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