LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Three cruise lines will end or scale back on trips to Mexico from Southern California, a trend some in the industry attribute to escalating drug violence in Mexico that has frightened away tourists.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s luxury liner Mariner of the Seas will depart on Sunday on its final run from the Port of Los Angeles to the west coast of Mexico, port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said.
The ship is then to be rebased in Galveston, Texas, offering seven-night trips to the western Caribbean, the company said.
Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Los Angeles-based Norwegian Star will discontinue its Mexican Riviera trips in May and move its home port to Tampa, Florida, port officials said.
Carnival Corp also said this week it would relocate its Carnival Spirit ship from the Port of San Diego to Australia starting in 2012. A second ship, Carnival Splendor, which caught fire in November and is under repair, will later return to the company’s terminal at the Port of Long Beach.
But the loss of the Mariner of the Seas, Norwegian Star and Carnival Splendor account for the bulk of Southern California’s cruise traffic to Mexico, which has taken a hit from the sluggish U.S. economy and growing violence in Mexico.
“Certainly Mexico has got some issues,” Sanfield said.
Luxury cruises from Southern California have traditionally made stops in Mexican tourist destinations like Puerto Vallarta and Cabo San Lucas that have avoided some of the worst of the drug violence that has seized Mexico in recent years.
“Nonetheless, people are taking a broader look ... at the violence in other parts of Mexico,” Sanfield said.
An estimated 755,000 cruise ship passengers passed through the Port of Los Angeles last year, but that number is expected to decline to 605,000 in 2011, the port said.
The Mariner of the Seas alone accounted for 320,000 of the port’s 2010 passengers, and Royal Caribbean has had a presence there for most the past 20 years.
“They have been one of the mainstays, and we hope to get them back here at a future time,” Sanfield said.
Each time a cruise ship pays a call to a Southern California port, it contributes $1 million to $2 million to the local economy.
Mexico’s drug violence began to escalate in 2006, the year that Mexican President Felipe Calderon turned to the military in the government’s battle against drug traffickers.
On Jan. 8, in the latest outbreak of bloodshed to hit a Mexican tourist destination, 14 decapitated bodies were found in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco.
The bodies were found near a shopping mall, along with hand-written messages signed by the leader of the powerful Sinaloa crime cartel.
Stewart Chiron, an industry analyst with CruiseGuy.com, said that apart from the poor economy, another factor contributing to the decline in voyages to Mexico was that travelers were simply burned out on those lines.
“The newer ships, the better itineraries, are on the East Coast,” Chiron said.
Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman AnneMarie Mathews said in a statement that the company decided to move its Norwegian Star vessel from Los Angeles because of “overcapacity in the market” and “decreased demand.”
“We will look at returning to Los Angeles at some point in the future,” she said.
Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami: Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan