Point of Focus: Are you Ready for Cruise Ships?

May 8, 2018

A small boat near a cruise ship in Humboldt Bay in 2012. The Humboldt Bay Cruise Ship Partnership expects the first cruise ship to arrive in Humboldt Bay on May 21, 2018.
Credit Larry Oetker

Larry Oetker sits in his office which overlooks most of Humboldt Bay. He said he's excited to see the arrival of cruise ships in Eureka, which is set to occur, bright and early on Monday, May 21st at 6 a.m. in the morning at Schnieder Dock. 

"We came up with an organizational structure. We kind of planned this thing out," he said. 

According to groups involved in the process, which includes The Humboldt Bay Harbor District, the City of Eureka, the Eureka Visitor Center, Eureka Main Street and community volunteer Chet Albin, multiple efforts will be conducted to to optimize the passengers' experience. While the ship is set to dock in Eureka, the group wants to market regional tours centered around things like the Redwoods.

"It's not just what's happening exactly in Eureka, although that's a big part of it, it's about what are the tours they can do in an hour to two hours around the bay," Oetker said. 

Oetker, who serves as the executive director for the Humboldt Bay Harbor Recreation and Conservation District said the first ship will hold approximately 250 people and that in the future the partners hope to bring about 5 ships next year in 2019. And he said those ships have already seen some early bookings. 

"Two hundred and fifty people--tourists--that weren't in our area before. We just got an instant 250 people come to our community. That's great. That's comparable to having a small conference or some other venue come here. It's a big deal," he said. 

The initial idea for bringing the cruise ships to Eureka, according to Oetker, stems from the success of Astoria, a small city on the Oregon coast that has these massive ships visit their region for nearly a decade. 

While their tourism industry  seems to have flourished with the addition of cruise ships, some tourism industries in Eureka are slightly skeptical about how much revenue they could gain from a surplus of people over the course of 1 to 2 days a year.

Brendan Ferron sits on a fold up lawn chair near the Gazebo in Old Town Eureka. He doesn't have a view of Humboldt Bay, but has an extensive view of a main tourist hot spot in the city. He purchased the Old Town Carriage Company in Eureka nearly five years ago and regularly takes people on tours of Old Town via a horse drawn carriage. 

"It will obviously (add revenue) but it will only be for short stay because these people maybe spend a night or over a night. Any extra business is fine," Ferron said. 

Ferron said while new customers would be nice, that locals and returning customers would be better. 

"When locals ride, you've got the chance of repetition. And when you've got locals that like you and bring relatives that visit and say 'this is something to do,' that's actually more than merely a weekend from a cruise ship," he said. "I always say this thing about Humboldt County generally, which is, 'the great thing about living here is we're kind of isolated but the downside of living here is we're kind of isolated." 

Ferron said it's a challenge because of where Humboldt County is geographically located, 6 hours from Portland and 6 hours from the Bay Area, but when asked if this region was still marketable when it comes to being part of a coastal route, Ferron said it most definitely is. 

However, Ferron said, the reality of the homeless situation in this region might change peoples' perspective of the rural North Coast.

"It's not Eureka's problem. It's not California's problem. It's kind of the country's problem. The aggressiveness of the visual problem of homelessness actually and physically on the street is a detergent to people. They see the only people walking around are completely disheveled with degrees of mental illness, it's a deterrent. It's a little scary for some, not for all, but for some," he said. 

The partnership group attended an international cruise ship trade show in Fort Lauderdale Florida to prepare for the ship's arrival and also promote and market the Redwood Coast. They're also set to attend another cruise ship industry meeting in Seattle Washington to recruit additional ships to Humboldt Bay.