Port St. Joe city commissioners questioned investment to attract a cruise for folks who wanted to experience Apalachicola.
Tourist Development Council executive director Jennifer Jenkins offered a bit of clarification during last week’s regular meeting.
In short strokes, Jenkins said the investment in city’s “low docks” and Jetty Park would be wise given the potential long-term impact of a cruise company making Port St. Joe an annual port-of-call.
“We want to ensure their time here is memorable and they want to come back,” Jenkins said. “Right now it is a one-day experience. My goal is to get that one day multiple times. It is a great opportunity for us, I believe.”
The field with Travel Dynamics International was first plowed with Tommy Pitts in his former role as director of the Port of Port St. Joe.
Two years ago Travel Dynamics was looking at Port St. Joe as a potential port-of-call on a Gulf of Mexico “cultural events” tour, Jenkins said.
Upon a site visit, however, the area was found to lack the events to fuel such a stop and the company looked elsewhere.
This winter Jenkins visited the company headquarters in New York and pitched Port St. Joe as a stop for an eco-tourism cruise.
Travel Dynamics agreed, she said, and will next month begin marketing a cruise which would come to Port St. Joe in April 2015.
The ship would bring 135 passengers, Jenkins said. The company markets to travelers from such companies and universities as Stanford, Smithsonian and the Rhodes scholarship foundation.
“These are avid travelers and these cruises are not cheap,” Jenkins said. “We are being pitched as providing a day of eco-excursions.”
After marketing the cruise to its list of clients, Travel Dynamics would open the cruise to others. If sold out the company would book a second and so on if reservations warranted.
The cruise would originate in New Orleans and stop at Mobile, AL, Pensacola, Panama City, Port St. Joe and end in Tampa.
Jenkins and a TDC committee examining the cruise industry and potential for Port St. Joe, has also looked at two other companies, Jenkins said, and she will continue to market the area to those companies.
While in Port St. Joe for the day, cruisers will be offered several “eco-trips” with St. Joseph Bay, the Dead Lakes and Lake Wimico among considered destinations along with a shopping/eating excursion in Port St. Joe.
Where Port St. Joe commissioners have been hung up is investing in repairs to the low docks – Jenkins said she had an estimate from Pitts of $17,000 for such repairs – when a main attraction would be a boat trip to Apalachicola.
“My concern is we don’t want to invest city dollars and have them come in and go to Apalachicola,” said Mayor Mel Magidson.
Jenkins said that trip was a primary focus for marketing the cruise, but that the trip to Apalachicola was one component on a busy day of activities and for those who undertook it would only be in Apalachicola part of the day.
“They want to go to Apalachicola, but they are not going to spend the day in Apalachicola,” Jenkins said. “And not everybody will go to Apalachicola.
“We will need to showcase what allures about Gulf County. This is a great opportunity. We need to give them a good experience. That will take the entire community.”
Jenkins added that the TDC would be coordinating the itinerary and handle logistics when the ship is in Port St. Joe, expending her marketing dollars in the effort.
Outside of rehab of the low docks, she said, the primary need for the ship in port would be 4,000 gallons of water. The ship would not make a waste dump in Port St. Joe.
The Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency has been examining potential grant dollars for the improvements to the low docks, though last week’s action by commissioners to dissolve the PSJRA board could leave that effort in limbo.
“I think it’s a great opportunity if we don’t have to spend a lot of money and see some return on those dollars,” Magidson said.