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Carnival hoped for better in New Orleans

/ Source: The Associated Press

Carnival Corp. chairman Micky Arison said Friday he was disappointed that New Orleans has not recovered from Hurricane Katrina as quickly as the cruise company had hoped.

Carnival Cruise Lines has delayed basing a second cruise ship in the Port of New Orleans because tourism has been slow as the city recovers from the devastating effects of the 2005 hurricane.

The port, which currently hosts a Carnival Cruise Lines ship and two rival ships with Caribbean itineraries, had expected to see service begin on the Carnival Triumph in August. But a port spokesman said last month that service would be delayed until at least April 2008.

“New Orleans has really, clearly been a disappointment,” Arison said in an earnings conference call. “It just hasn’t recovered as quickly as we had hoped.”

Media reports have focused on the parts of the city that were hardest hit by Katrina, “which are really outside of the tourist areas,” Arison said.

“It seems to inhibit tourists going to New Orleans, which is really a shame,” Arison said.

The Gulf Coast and the Florida source markets for cruise passengers have been slower than normal. Those two markets help fuel the market for three- and four-day cruises, but the high cost of living in Florida and Katrina’s lingering economic effects on the Gulf Coast have contributed to lower bookings, the company said.

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise operator, has 12 brands under its umbrella, including Carnival Cruise Lines.

New Orleans was one of the fastest-growing cruise ports in the country before Katrina, handling 700,000 passengers leaving and arriving in 2004, the last full year prior to Katrina. The port has built a third cruise terminal that can handle two large ships at once.

New Orleans also serves as the homeport to two other cruise ships — Norwegian Cruise Lines’ The Sun and Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas.

Arison said Carnival Cruise Lines was getting reservations from travelers who live in the New Orleans area but was not getting the outside tourists who want to spend a few days in the city before or after a cruise.

He said he hoped tourism officials in New Orleans and Louisiana will eventually be able to get the message out that tourists can return.

“But thus far, really that message hasn’t been getting out,” Arison said.