SAN DIEGO — Carnival Cruise Lines said Thursday it is pulling the last of its ships out of San Diego, and other cruise operators are departing Southern California because of economic woes and tourists' fears over traveling to Mexico.
The 2,500-passenger Carnival Spirit is moving to Australia by April 2012, the cruise line announced on its Web site, citing a "huge potential for growth" there while its San Diego business sags.
The Port of San Diego estimates the departure of the ship, which takes more than 60,000 passengers a year to destinations along the Mexican Riviera, will cost the local economy about $54 million in annual spending, the San Diego Union Tribune said.
To the north, Royal Caribbean's 3,100-passenger Mariner of the Seas is leaving on its final voyage from the Port of Los Angeles on Sunday and after a tour of South America. It will end up at its new home base of Galveston, Texas, the Los Angeles Times said. And the 2,348-passenger Norwegian Star will leave LA in May for Tampa, Fla.
The two boats carried nearly half of the business of the Port of Los Angeles in 2009.
While the cruise industry is seeing signs of recovery in Florida and elsewhere, persistent drug-related violence has meant fading interest in cruises to Mexico, the chief destination of California-based ships.
"What we need is a better economy – so does everybody – and a better product in Mexico," Rita Vandergaw, director of marketing for the Port of San Diego, told City News Service.
In the first six months of 2010 just 187 cruises docked in Mexican ports, compared to 290 in the same period in 2008, the Times said.
Port officials and the travel industry have tried to emphasize the minimal danger to tourists in Mexico, pointing out that most of the violence in Mexico takes place far from cruise destinations, but that message has a hard time competing with images of beheaded bodies on the news.
Terry Thornton, a senior vice president at Carnival, said in a statement that business in Mexico was being "negatively affected by the highly publicized incidents of violent crime. Fortunately, these incidents have really not been focused at tourists."
Others point out the constant cycles that come with the oceanic travel business, and believe the slump is temporary.
"We are definitely down, but we've been down before," Vandergaw told the Times. "For me this is a cyclical change. I'm optimistic it will turn around."