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Fort Lauderdale Hoteliers Hope Oasis of the Seas, the World's
 Largest Cruise Ship, Will, Lead to More Room Sales

By Jaclyn Giovis, Sun Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

October 30, 2009 - --Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, will focus global attention on Fort Lauderdale when it arrives next month, and the visitor's bureau is poised to take full advantage.

The new Royal Caribbean ship left a shipyard in Finland on Friday and is expected to reach Port Everglades by Nov. 11.

"Oasis provides an opportunity for 5,400 weekly passengers to experience our area from the beaches to the Everglades," said Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Tourism officials are rolling out the red carpet for media covering the $1.5 billion ship, which will get its national close-up on a live Good Morning America broadcast on Nov. 20.

The debut comes at a fortuitous time as Florida is kicking off its tourist season.

In 2009, the cruise industry in Broward generated about 141,000 overnight visitors and 70,000 room nights, which amounts to an economic impact of about $30 million, according to the visitor's bureau.

"We anticipate an increase of 5 percent in overnight stays, based on the occupancy of the new ships," coming to port this year and next, Grossman said.

Historically, about 10 percent of the cruisers who take a voyage from Port Everglades stay at least one extra night. Sometimes that's only because passengers are afraid of otherwise missing the ship's departure or are forced to stay post-cruise when airline itineraries go awry.

Tourism officials hope to convince people to extend their vacation for at least two nights, but some hoteliers say they are skeptical that Oasis' arrival will suddenly alter the picture.

"It automatically will not change the habits of passengers unless there's a marketing effort by Royal Caribbean," said Andreas Ioannou, general manager for the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort.

If the cruise line encourages pre- and post-cruise stays and Fort Lauderdale shore excursion packages along with the cruise, it may sway more cruisers to extend their vacation, Ioannou and others said.

Still, the new ship is creating buzz that helps to raise Fort Lauderdale's profile as a global destination, they said.

"It's an exponential growth in terms of promoting Fort Lauderdale," said Ben Johnson, national sales manager at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six.

Both U.S. and international groups are booking hotel stays coinciding with Oasis' 7-night Caribbean sailings Johnson said, but for individual passengers, those coming overseas from Europe and elsewhere are more likely than domestic cruisers to book for more than a one night.

This month, the visitor's bureau rolled out a promotion to entice travel agents to sell two-night pre- or post-cruise stays on seven eligible Royal Caribbean International or Celebrity Cruise Lines ships. Under the promotion, agents receive a $25 American Express gift card on top of earned hotel commission. Passengers get a free perk: a beach starter kit with a beach towel, flip flops and two free admissions to one of the area's leisure attractions.

Travel agent Michael Holbrook of Columbus, Ga., sold a package to a Pennsylvania couple sailing on Oasis.

The promotion was effective in motivating agents to sell a second night, especially to passengers traveling in winter months, Holbrook said. Typically, agents try to sell at least one pre-night stay as a safeguard to make sure their clients don't miss the boat due to weather and airport delays. Arriving a day early also helps clients save money on airline ticket costs, which tend to be more expensive for early arrivals on the ship's departure day, he said.

Jaclyn Giovis can be reached at 954-356-4668 or


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