Friday, May 04, 2001

Delta Queen revises approach

Plan means fewer stays overnight

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A pearl of the Cincinnati riverfront, the Delta Queen — and its two sister ships — will bring more riders here in 2002, but far fewer who stay overnight and spend money in hotels and restaurants, a company spokeswoman confirmed Thursday.

        The impact on the local economy is likely to be a negative one, according to travel coordinators at Cincinnati AAA, which arranges travel plans for about 450 riders annually aboard the famed Delta Queen, one of three boats operated by Queen Line steamboats.

        “I don't see an upside for Cincinnati, to be honest,” said Mitzi Harrison, area coordinator for Cincinnati AAA. “We're a river town.”

    This year: 14 days in Cincinnati, 13 turnover trips in which some passengers take extended stays locally; and one mid-cruise stop, in which passengers get off in the morning and return that evening.
    Next year: 18 days in Cincinnati, two turnover trips and 16 same-day stops.
        The Delta Queen and its predecessor, Greene Line, have been a local institution for more than a century.

        Generations of Cincinnatians have grown up with the steamboat with “Port of Cincinnati” inscribed on the back, gracing the Ohio.

        “We wouldn't have made the change if it wasn't positive for our passengers,” Delta Queen Steamboat Co. spokeswoman Susan Oakland said Thursday from the company's New Orleans headquarters. “Cincinnati is very dear to our hearts — that's the place we were founded.”

        It's good news for local residents who simply enjoy watching the Delta Queen pull up to Cincinnati's front door, because stops will increase next year to 18 from 14. But the longer round trips will drop to two from 13.

        Winners in this schedule change might include lunch destinations, and local city tours operators, because more of the “mid-cruise” visitors will be arriving in the morning and departing at 5 or 6 p.m. that day — enough time for a drive tour, lunch or visit to the zoo or Museum Center.

        Local losers, however, will far outnumber winners, AAA said. Those expected to take a financial hit are hotels, the airport, evening-event venues, and food vendors who re-stock the boats on the longer “turnover' trips.

        Ms. Oakland countered that some turnover passengers quickly leave the area, without spending significant amounts of money here. But many who leave promptly use the airport and bus stations, which could see drops in business.

        Also, since round-trips from Cincinnati will dwindle to two, locals who enjoy the convenience will now to be forced to drive to Louisville, the new turnover port. Or take fewer trips.

        Louisville's improved port and cheaper air fares make it a more attractive turnover site.

        “It probably would cut back the number of trips we make,” said Michael Jones of Monfort Heights, who with his wife, Rita, makes about three round-trips a year.

        “A lot of the turnover trips are two, three days here, to the Kentucky Horse Park and around Cincinnati,” said Mr. Jones, a professor in the humanities department at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. “We've met people here from Hawaii, all over. You're talking about hotels, the airport, businesses.”

        He said it is common to see vendors' trucks lined up on the landing when turnover cruises arrive.

        “Money-wise,” AAA group-travel coordinator Diana Lacy said, “it sounds like we're going to be losing. On turnover days, they always took on food, supplies, so local green grocers too might lose out.”

        Ms. Oakland couldn't immediately provide capacity-rates for the Delta Queen, American Queen and Mississippi Queen, but said that if each of the Cincinnati visits were full, the number of visitors would rise from 6,400 a year to more than 7,000.


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