CHARLESTON, S.C. -- A new study suggests that while downtown Charleston must deal with the passengers, traffic and congestion from cruise ships, the city gets only a fraction of the surrounding region's economic benefit from South Carolina's year-round cruise industry.
"I would say that based on the overall picture of tourism in Charleston that it is a relatively minor amount," said Harry Miley, the president of Miley & Associates who compiled the report released Wednesday and commissioned by the Historic Charleston Foundation.
Miley said there needs to be additional research on the direct impact of the industry which has already spawned a court case headed to the state Supreme Court.
Last year The National Trust for Historic Preservation put Charleston on what it called "watch status" because of concerns the city's growing cruise industry could damage the quality of life in the historic city.
In compiling the latest report, researchers examined the cruise industry and looked at other cities but there was no new data specifically collected about Charleston.
An earlier report commissioned by the South Carolina State Ports Authority determined that the cruise industry means about $37 million a year to the three-county Charleston region.
"The impacts on the city of Charleston are a fraction of that $37 million," Miley's report said.
The new report, which will be reviewed by the Historic Charleston Foundation, made several recommendations, including that the city levy a fee on cruise tickets to help offset infrastructure and other costs associated with cruises. It also called for "a new economic impact study conducted by an impartial organization with real-time data."
Last year, the foundation held a forum on the merits of the city's cruise industry which has been the center of ongoing controversy. It said the new report "provides an objective analysis and perspective on the economic impacts of the cruise industry."
Carnival Cruise Lines permanently based its 2,056-passenger liner Fantasy here almost two years ago, creating a year-round cruise industry.
Last year, Charleston residents, the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League and the Preservation Society of Charleston sued Carnival alleging, among other things, that the company's vessels are a public nuisance and amount to illegal hotel operations.
The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear that case without it first going to a lower court. The city and the Ports Authority have intervened on the side of the cruise line.
John Crotts of the College of Charleston, one of the researchers on the study commissioned by the Ports Authority, said it gauged the impacts in the Charleston region. He added there is no way that economic models can induce the indirect effect of an industry at a zip code level.
But a second study he did last year showed hundreds of additional hotel rooms are sold and tens of thousands of dollars in additional lodging revenue is generated every time a cruise ship arrives in or leaves Charleston.
"We saw hotels got a sizeable bump, particularly in downtown Charleston," he said.
Crotts said researchers feel a $37 million annual impact from cruises is conservative.
"It's a number and it's in the eyes of the beholder," he said. "Some people may say it's very large number some people would say it's a small number but it's our best assessment."