By: Herndon Davis
It’s certainly no secret that the cruise industry is currently in turmoil, floundering and quite frankly severely down but definitely NOT out! Instead of Mobile standing on the sidelines like other cruise port cities across the US wringing their hands awaiting their fate, the city should stand up and stand out in conquering its space within the cruise market industry. Here are 5 things the city of Mobile must do NOW to solidify and GROW its market share!!
1. Change its mindset from Victim to Victor
City Leaders should reject ALL previous notions about Mobile’s standing in the cruise industry world that have been told to us by others outside the city. When we repeat and believe what others say about us then we remain a “victim” of circumstance and of their perceptions. Instead Mobile should become a Victor of its own making!!
What’s been told to Mobile About Mobile by “others”:
1- Mobile is way too small of a cruise market with not enough hotel rooms, flights and entertainment.
2-Mobile can’t get a bigger or multiple ships because it doesn’t have high dollar cruisers.
3-Mobile can’t get bigger ships because its bay is too small and tugboats are needed to guide them in and out.
4-Mobile can only attract modest income drive-in markets in the Southeast and Midwest. Atlanta folks have way too much money, are too refined and will fly to Miami for a good time instead before cruising.
From this point forward let’s reject ALL these widely held beliefs and excuses with counterpoints as to reasons why Mobile despite its shortfalls still CAN attract multiple ships and bigger ships!! Remember this is the same small city that fought Boeing for years and finally landed Airbus with its first final assembly line in North America and is now home to two final assembly lines.
Bottom line, don’t tell Mobile or Mobilians what we can and cannot do or what we can and cannot have!!
First, we should start from scratch with a brand-new paradigm, creative thinking and thinking outside of the box. Hell, let’s throw the box away altogether and start thinking without limits or borders. The city MUST punch higher than its weight class if it wants to become a Victor and longstanding player in the cruise industry!!
2. Utilize BOTH the Mobile Convention Center and Cruise Terminal to facilitate multiple, larger ships.
In the very beginning, BEFORE the Cruise Terminal was built the Mobile Convention Center was used to onboard cruise ships. So, let’s use and market that location in addition to the Mobile Cruise Terminal to show Mobile’s capability to handle multiple ships either on the same day or on different days. We have to pull out ALL our tools/weapons in our arsenal and not just politely use the obvious to promote ourselves as a serious cruise port city.
The use and promotion of the Mobile Convention Center augments Mobile’s chances of getting more, different, seasonal or even bigger ships because the Mobile Cruise Terminal, as beautiful as it is, is absolutely tiny in comparison to cruise terminals in every other US city. Having personally sailed and/or lived in multiple port cities (Mobile, Galveston/Houston, Long Beach/Los Angeles, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, New Orleans, Baltimore/Washington, DC), I can tell you that their facilities are so much bigger it’s like comparing a Grapefruit to a grape.
Yes, we all know that bigger isn’t always better, but Mobile has to show other cruise lines it has the physical capability to take on more. Retrofitting the Mobile Convention Center for even seasonal cruises is well worth the cost and long-term opportunity to have more business return to Mobile.
3. Mobile should target specialty niche markets and seasonal, short term and regional cruises.
The current community/city mindset is that Mobile’s cruise success is judged upon its ability to secure a multi-year cruise contract.. I reject that notion. Admittedly multi-year contracts are considered gold because it shows corporate commitment to our city, but I don’t believe we should focus all our energies in that direction. It’s like putting all of your eggs in that darned proverbial one basket.
The current multi-year cruise line contract that Mobile has signed has a clause that allows the cruise line to discontinue service with no penalty after a given point in the contract. So, a multi-year contract is not so multi-year after all if the direction changes. The solution is to diversify by augmenting Mobile’s cruise offerings to welcoming specialty niche markets, seasonal, short term and regional cruises. Personally, I believe it’s always best to have multiple streams of income. In this case the city should have multiple streams of revenue being generated from the cruise industry; not just one stream from one cruise line and one contract.
4. Target LGBT, Ethnic/Racial, Singles, Atlanta, Mardi Gras and Other Niche Driven Markets
-Is Mobile open to welcoming 3,000+ gay men or women to the city to hop aboard a ship to the Caribbean? Other cities (Galveston, New York, Long Beach, New Orleans) have multiple cruises throughout the year that target this community.
-Is Mobile open to welcoming 3,000+ African Americans who want to explore a new city and sail away for 7-9 days out the port city? Other cities (Miami, Galveston, Port Canaveral) have all hosted such annual events.
-Is Mobile open and willing to welcome niches of ALL ages, political, lifestyle persuasion from Singles, Retirees, Jazz Enthusiasts, Dance Party cruises, Mardig Gras party goers, Progressives, Conservatives, etc. You may not agree with them personally but their money is just as green as it gets!
Mobile can NO LONGER afford to politely sit out the entire seasonal and niche specialty markets!! There are hungry promoters all over the country looking to find more affordable cities to launch their cruises from. Let’s provide them with a unique set of reasons to cruise out of Mobile despite all the alleged drawbacks previously mentioned.
Next let’s target the 6 Million people in metro Atlanta!! Others have told us that Atlanta folks have way too much money and are too refined and will fly to Miami instead for a good time before cruising. Well that’s complete BS!! Having lived in Atlanta for nearly 8 years and also recently studied their demographics Mobile can most definitely cash in on this market.
Everyone in metro Atlanta isn’t rich. Many of their residents are originally from Alabama, Mississippi and other southern states. So, driving down 5 hours to Mobile isn’t that big of a culture shock for them, more like a homecoming. Mobile should not sit on its hand believing what “others” have told us about ourselves and our inability to attract metro Atlanta residents.
5. Mobile should target and promote itself as a port city for Cruise Ship building!!!!
Right now about 3 -4 locations in the entire world exclusively build cruise ships. Why not add one more city, Mobile!! This of course would require a massive, coordinated effort between the City, County, Corporations, Alabama State Port Authority and the State of Alabama to attract the type industry and create incentives for it to grow here. So why not start small with building small regional cruise ships, luxury yachts and grow from there.
So why should Mobile cede this market??? YES, we build great big naval warships but can we also find other niches to grow our standing in the cruise industry world. Just like Frontier Airlines flies a plane out of the growing Mobile Downtown Airport that was built a few feet away at the Airbus facility, maybe one day the same could be said for cruise ships. A cruise ship building company in Mobile could build a ship that eventually sails directly out of the port city!!
Bottom line, the city of Mobile needs to think BIGGER and make BOLDER moves if it wants to be Victor in the changing winds of the cruise industry. So let’s make it happen with our brand new consolidated airport move to downtown and city efforts leading the way to make Mobile a major and influential cruise market city!!
Author, Herndon Davis is manager of the Facebook page “Growing Mobile Alabama” and can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/GrowingMobileAlabama/