MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - The Mobile Bay Tourism CEO is back from his visit with cruise operators in Florida, and Thursday he brought Mayor Sam Jones up to speed on developments.
FOX10 News learned an airline may hold the key to bringing back a cruise ship.
When Carnival's Elation pulled out of Mobile two years ago, you could say people and coffers were depressed.
"It's a shame. It's a shame Mobile and Carnival couldn't work something out, in my opinion. We always spent money in Mobile. We spent a lot of money in Mobile, and the city will feel the pain, I think," said Paul and Bo from Tupelo, Mississippi, after debarking Elation in 2011.
The city was left with a 500-space parking garage and a $20 million tab to pay it off.
In 2012, the city tried to find ways to fill that gap.
"This year, it's an unfortunate situation that we don't have the crew ships there currently. So we've got all this parking available to people so we thought we'd open it up for Mardi Gras," said Public Affairs spokesperson Adam Buck.
But there may be a ship on the horizon.
"They love Mobile. I will tell you the cruise industries love Mobile," said President and CEO of Mobile Bay Conventions & Visitors Bureau David Randel.
Randel is putting together a business plan, which he will present to several cruise line operators in Miami.
He will try to sell them on Mobile's advantages: the cruise terminal with adjacent parking, and a wider and deeper channel to allow bigger ships.
A new law set to take effect in 2014 will force cruise ships to use two types of fuel: one clean burning, but more expensive; the other, cheaper.
Mobile's location could help the cruise lines bottom lines.
"If they can decrease their expenses, because it's going to get much more expensive in the buying of fuel, the sooner they can get to that point where they don't have to burn that fuel puts us at a competitive advantage," said Randel.
But, Randel said it could be air travel that seals the deal.
"They know about Airbus, and here's what they told me, ‘That's great that you booked Airbus, but Airbus is not going to bring us back,'" said Randel.
Randel said Chicagoans have a role to play in all of this.
"Any idea what the temperature in Chicago is today?" said Randel.
United Airlines has a plan to make it easier for Chicagoans to come to our city with a direct flight from Chicago to Mobile starting April 9.
"If you want to get cruising, and cruising is a very popular thing to do and you're in the Midwest, and you can get down here on a non-stop flight that is a huge win for Mobile, but something that is very exciting to the cruise companies," said Randel.
Randel said cruise operators believe Airbus will help make Mobile a vibrant city with restaurants and shopping, and they will want to come here for those amenities.
The next step involves Mayor Sam Jones along with a task force traveling to Miami to meet with cruise line officials. No date has been set for that meeting yet.
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