For Mayor Sandy Stimpson, Christmas came in October this year. He even compared Carnival Executive Vice President Terry Thornton to St. Nicholas himself.
“What you just brought us was a whole lot better than what Santa Claus brings,” Stimpson said while onboard the Carnival Fantasy on Monday, Oct. 14.
Stimpson, Thornton and members of the Mobile City Council met for a ceremonial signing on the ship Monday before councilors made the contract official at a regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15.
The vote had been delayed because councilors could not get a voting quorum together on Thursday, Oct. 10. Councilwoman Bess Rich had said she had a scheduling conflict with the 4:30 p.m. meeting, which arose from a gala at the Connie Hudson Mobile Regional Senior Community Center. However, in a Facebook post, she complained that a copy of the contract signed by Carnival executives had not been attached to the meeting agenda. Councilman Fred Richardson also did not attend the meeting. He complained that the contract, which he also noted had not been appropriately signed, was not attached to the agenda until the day of the meeting.
The new three-year contract between Carnival and Mobile is a departure for the company when dealing with a market this size, Thornton said.
“This is very different than agreements we’ve done before,” he said. “We really need and want to make the Port of Mobile work for us and we have.”
In markets the size of Mobile, the cruise line typically enters into single-year contracts, which means there is almost no commitment on the part of the company. Stimpson had put an emphasis on luring Carnival back since he was first elected in 2013. Stimpson entered into a new contract with the cruise line in 2015 and has been hopeful the city could keep a ship in port ever since.
“In 2015 when Carnival came back, we didn’t know what to expect, but we were very, very hopeful,” Stimpson said.
On the company’s part, Thornton said it left the city following the fulfillment of its 2011 contract because the “economic model wasn’t working at that time.”
“At this time that’s not the case,” he said.
There are a series of opt-outs in the contract, but Thornton reassured those in attendance that those were an “accounting provision” and do not impact the company’s three-year commitment to Mobile.
Ships leaving Mobile are important to Carnival, Thornton said, because they draw cruisers from a five-hour radius. That means a lot of visitors are within a “convenient” drive to the port, he said.
There are no itinerary changes on the horizon for Mobile cruises, Thornton said. Fantasy will continue to offer four- and five-day cruises to ports in the Western Carribean. These shorter cruises are better for working families, who want to take a week-long vacation.
“It gives you two days to get your life back in order,” Thornton said.
The shorter cruises are also a “little less expensive,” which helps to attract first-time cruisers, he said.
A bigger ship is a possibility, he said, but, again, the company is not currently looking to shuffle its fleet around, Thornton said.
David Clark, president and CEO of Visit Mobile, said the Carnival Fantasy is a boost to the city’s tourism. In the last three years, Clark said, the ship’s presence has resulted in 80,000 room nights with guests spending in the tens of millions of dollars in the city.
“That’s what is coming the next three years: the same or even more,” he said. “Those are true economic gains. This isn’t economic-impact study fluff. This is the real deal.”
The city hired a Miami-based consultant named Roger Blum to help work on the contract, but also work with the cruise industry as a whole, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said in a previous interview.
“No. 1, we’re very impressed with his expertise and his relationships,” Wesch said. “We continue to believe he is one of the resources to attempt to make sure that the Carnival experience is not something that is day-to-day.”
More specifically, Stimpson said there are no conversations about bringing in a second cruise ship, or a larger one, but that could be a goal in the future.
“Because of his industry knowledge he’s staying engaged with Carnival [and] keeping us apprised of what we need to be aware of,” Stimpson said. “He’s got his ears and eyes open for other opportunities with Carnival or someone else.”
The contract, which Lagniappe has requested a copy of, is performance-based, city spokesperson George Talbot said.
As for Carnival’s success with cruises out of Mobile, Wesch said every ship has been full.
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