BY TOM DALTON
---- — SALEM — With two months to go in the tourism season, the Salem Ferry has carried almost as many riders as it did all of last year.
“It’s been a terrific summer, in particular for the Salem Ferry,” said Alison Nolan, general manager of Boston Harbor Cruises, which operates 32 vessels.
Through August — the unofficial end of summer — the ferry had transported 42,500 passengers between the Blaney Street landing and Long Wharf in Boston.
The total for all of last year, which got off to a late start due to boat repairs, was 43,000.
Ridership is up 49 percent, Nolan said.
The 7 a.m. commuter run is also alive and well, growing from an average of 35 riders last year to about 60. Some of that increase is likely due to the closing of the Salem commuter rail station during reconstruction.
Although business is up significantly, the numbers are far below those reported by the previous ferry operator, Boston’s Best Cruises, which dropped the Salem ferry after the 2011 season.
Boston’s Best Cruises, which had 73,000 passengers two years ago, discontinued daily service after six seasons, saying the business was not financially viable.
Boston Harbor Cruises raised rates when it took over, which has helped boost revenues.
Although a financial analysis won’t be done until the end of the season, Nolan said the numbers are looking good.
“We’re committed 100 percent to the Salem ferry and also to the city of Salem,” Nolan said. “People return with not only a great impression of the city of Salem, but also of Boston Harbor Cruises.”
The city-owned Nathaniel Bowditch, a 149-passenger, high-speed catamaran, offers a 55-minute ride from the Blaney Street landing in Salem to Long Wharf in Boston. A round-trip adult ticket is $27, with a 20 percent discount for Salem residents. The ferry operates from Memorial Day through Halloween.
Nolan attributed the rise in business to an improved schedule for North Shore residents with more late-night service, the discount fares for Salem residents, and better marketing to Boston hotels and other tourist venues.
“We’re definitely seeing an increase on the Salem end for residents taking advantage of the ferry due to the discount and the more attractive departure times for dinner trips,” she said.
“Really, the lion’s share of the increase is coming out of the Boston tourism side coming to Salem for day trips. ... We’ve definitely put a lot of work into marketing the Salem ferry over the last two years.”
Nolan credited the city with helping to boost business by hosting an annual visit by hotel concierges.
The rejuvenation of the Peabody Essex Museum, other attractions and the many restaurants also help make the city an attractive day trip, she said.
“It’s the feedback concierges receive from guests which makes them that much more likely to recommend (the Salem ferry) in the future.”
The recent addition of The Landing at Salem Ferry, where riders can enjoy a drink, has also boosted business.
Tom Dalton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.