SALEM — The first of three cruise ships will shuttle up to Blaney Street landing today around noon, unleashing its 45 or so passengers on Salem's waterfront, downtown and historic sites.
"It's great to have the three visits," said Kate Fox, executive director of the city's tourism agency, Destination Salem. "Hopefully, they'll continue to add more Salem stops to more itineraries in the future."
Not since summer 2008 has a cruise ship made its way to Salem Harbor, Fox said. The passengers of the 15-day cruise that arrives today will be aboard the Grand Caribe, which launched Thursday from Warren, R.I.
Fox likened the ships to floating tour buses, and with two more vessels scheduled to arrive Aug. 13 and Sept. 3, it's welcome business.
Destination Salem sent visitors' guides to the cruise ship company Blount Small Ship Adventures before they left their home port. This week, Fox was working on coupon sheets to hand out to passengers and encourage them to "come out and explore Salem, especially the shopping and dining aspect."
Rinus Oosthoek, executive director of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, said the cruise ship experience had been "quite good" for business owners.
"People get off the cruise ships and start spending," he said.
The effect of cruise ships on coastal communities like Salem can be substantial.
"Anytime they have a docking, the multiplier is enormous," Oosthoek said.
Salem is hoping more cruise ships will choose Salem in the future, Fox said. She and Kathy Winn, deputy director of planning, have attended cruise ship conferences to promote the city.
With the recent purchase of the landing and plans to expand it, the city will have the ability to draw not just more ships but larger ones, Fox noted.
"There's a tremendous amount of potential," she said.
Winn said the city would love to have a very busy schedule of cruise ships.
"At this point, we're trying to get ourselves out there as a destination and trying to attract cruise ships," Winn said. "Our goal is to be able to attract hundreds if not thousands (of tourists) to the city."
For now, the city charges a flat $500 fee for cruise ships to dock. In the future and with a larger pier, the city could charge between $2,000 and $3,000 for medium-sized boats.
Winn said tourists who come by ship and enjoy themselves are more inclined to return.
"If they like what they experience on the cruise, they'll come back and visit," she said.