The Marshall Islands is hosting an increasing number of cruise line visitors primarily from the United States and Japan according to Dolores de Brum-Kattil general manager of the Marshall Islands Visitors Authority.

At least two vessels are expected in 2006 — the Pacific Princess expected in April and the Port of Majuro some time during the year.

In addition to Princess Cruises’ arrivals NYK Line’s Asuka includes the Marshall Islands in its itinerary for the South Pacific region with visits every two years — the next is scheduled for February 2006 Kittal said.

MIVA also expects a visit to Rongelap by the luxury liner The World in the near future as well as the first visit by Germany’s Delphin Cruises with an estimated 350 to 500 passengers in February 2006.

Though a number of vessels have visited since the early 1990s MIVA only began including this data with visitor arrival statistics since 2004.

“We have seen a steady number of visits in the past few years with a minimum of two cruise ship visits per year. This has led to an increased number of annual true holiday numbers from less than 1 500 to about 2 700 and we are looking at the same trend if not more for this year ” de Brum-Kattil told the Journal.

To meet increasing market demands worldwide the cruising industry has introduced larger more luxurious vessels in recent years. As a result competition is heating up among smaller vessels that previously focused on the Caribbean and Mediterranean DeBrum-Katill said. As cruisers demand new and unique places to visit the Marshall Islands has responded to the challenge by promoting the diversity of cultures people and islands concentrated in the region.

According to Phillip Welch general manager of Micronesian Shipping Agencies Inc. three Princess Cruises vessels visited the Marshall Islands during the last two years. The cruises were geared toward WWII veterans and their families who wanted to visit some of the Pacific battle sites including Majuro Solomon Islands Iwo Jima Okinawa Midway Guam and Honolulu.

In addition to veterans the Marshall Islands has become a popular destination for divers Welch said.

“The divers we get are from the U.S. Japan and Australia mostly. Also Bikini Atoll has a consistent booking of Technical Divers coming to Majuro. This dive spot is on the wish list of most hard-core divers and the numbers of divers they handle are limited. Overall the service providers are here we just need the people to come and enjoy this part of the world.”

While MIVA estimates the economic impact to be under $100 000 per year local restaurants and hotels only get a small number of cruise ship guests due to the short length of time in port according to Bill Weza manager of the Marshall Islands Resort. The primary beneficiaries of these visitor revenues are small business like handicraft stores dive shops and day excursion operators he said.

“If the ship stayed overnight or for a period of more than eight hours we could develop daytime cultural activities that could be pre-sold on-board ship prior to entering port and capture even more of the guests’ dollars. As it is the ship has five to six hours in port and one hour of that is getting on and off ship.”

In short the future economic impact of cruise business in the region is dependent upon volume consistency and longer port calls Weza said.

Despite the high expenses associated with travel to this region including port fees fuel and services de Brum-Kattil said “We are an excellent port of call with easy access into and protection inside the lagoon two deep water docks provisions services and of course we have the capability to offer activities such as land cruises diving fishing and more.

With the increase in cruise line visits especially to the smaller more remote islands and atolls in the region we may be looking at an increase/improvement in infrastructure and of course better to excellent economic benefits with minimal impact.” MBJ