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KONK REACTOR column
[Published in the KONK Life newspaper on February 2, 2012.]
Cruisin’ for a Bruisin’
Back in the ‘80s my family would visit Key West regularly, and came downtown for the sunset celebration two or three times during each visit. One night we got there and found a massive wall on the western side of Mallory Square. It was an amazing site – a huge cruise ship parked there, mostly empty because it had disgorged its passengers among the ample crowds of tourists and locals who had come to see the famous, but now blocked, view.
We were flabbergasted by the thought that anyone would find it logical to allow such an intrusion on this venerable celebration. WTF??? But of course the next night it was gone — and so we assumed it was an aberration. Little did we know that it was just a portent of Key West’s rapid slide into the maw of the cruise ship industry.
By the turn of the century, Key West was pulling in 400 ships a year with over 600,000 passengers. After 9/11 that count rose to over 500 ships and over a MILLION passengers. The industry had us by the balls.
Opportunists had set up many trashy tourist traps to try to pry a few bucks out of the passengers’ hands. But since so many were cruising on bargain fares and had little more to spend, the only way these shops could make it was to get more more more ships into port. Same for the bars and trolleys and jet-ski rentals. All of them invested on the assumption that there’d be lots of cattle coming down the troughs to their doors. And the cruise ship industry assumed they had us hooked.
But the number of port calls they could make did have limits. So the only way to increase their profits was to cram MORE people onto the ships. When the ships were full, they started building bigger ones. They would not be content with GOOD profit, their profits had to grow and GROW. In a massive fit of greed, they began to build gargantuan ships that were too large to even fit into most of their ports of call. They assumed that their addicts would do whatever they needed to keep the supply coming.
But some places refused. They had the SENSE to understand the law of diminishing returns. They knew that spending a lot of money on massive harmful infrastructure to support an industry that had no regard for them in the first place would bite them in the ass. They could see that their environment would degrade and their towns would turn ugly to anyone but the tourists flowing off the ships. And they were smart enough to know that even THOSE tourists would soon tire of such places.
The cruise ship industry realized they had a problem. Not all of their ports were as addicted as they assumed. So the industry tried to FORCE these massive monsters onto them by telling them to take them or die!
But the ports knew that that they would NOT die. They had a life before the cruise ships, and would have one without them. They even had a life with SOME cruise ships — but they would NOT have a life if they let the industry foist these massive cruise ships onto them.
Unfortunately some in Key West can’t resist the addiction, though. The addiction that will KILL us if we let it.
It is a FACT that the City government itself makes very little from the ships that doesn’t go right back into servicing the ships. It is a FACT that very few businesses except those opportunist tourist trappers make any money off the ships. The brainwashed inflate these numbers to try to strike fear for our jobs. They ignore the effect on the jobs of those who service more lucrative tourist markets (that DO bring the city more income by far). And they TOTALLY ignore the impact on the environment.
Despite what John Wells – who makes big bucks off the cruise ships – says in a recent editorial, those who are against widening the channel are NOT elitists. It’s a matter of LIMITS. We can’t handle more than we do now. If the industry won’t adjust to what we CAN handle, it is THEIR fault if they go away. It is NOT our fault.
But they will NOT go away. THEY will adjust and we will continue to have cruise ships. They need their addicts more than we need them.
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