Dozens of passengers arrived at Fishermen’s Village in Punta Gorda during the second of American Cruise Lines’ visits Jan. 2. Local officials and business owners predict that this, along with the opening of Sunseeker Resort Charlotte Harbor, could be the start of a major economic boon for Charlotte County.
The cruise passengers arrived at a marina dock to fanfare, which included a red carpet, backpacks filled with mementos and complimentary mimosas before the visitors boarded American Cruise Line buses taking them to local attractions.
The cruise line’s inaugural visit to Charlotte County was Dec.25, the same month Sunseeker Resort opened. The celebration was scheduled a week later.
The American Glory’s Punta Gorda stop is part of the cruise line’s new Florida Gulf Coast and Keys Cruise itinerary. Onboard the ship following their excursions, some passengers met briefly with county representatives who were invited to tour the boat.
Sean Doherty, director of the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau, said some passengers plan to return to the area, and many extolled the beauty and attractions they had seen, including Peace River Wildlife Center, the Visual Arts Center, Peace River Botanical and Sculpture Gardens and Sunseeker Resort’s spa and pool.
Later, Shelly Hartfield, director of product development for American Cruise Lines, said 28 cruises will stop in Punta Gorda in 2025. Two ships will be in service that year—American Glory and American Legend—with each ship dropping anchor once a week. American Cruise Lines’ visitors to Punta Gorda will double when the second ship is put into service, she said.
Kathy Burnam, director of special events and community relations for Fishermen’s Village, and Doherty and his VCB staff planned the welcoming reception.
“The advent of American Cruise Lines bringing passengers to Fishermen’s Village and Punta Gorda for three months as we begin 2024 will certainly have a phenomenal impact on tourism,” Burnam said. “Exposing thousands of first-time visitors to our pristine, welcoming city will not only generate initial additional sales revenues for our merchants but will also spread the word about the destination.”
Burnam predicted the visitors will “put more heads on beds, expand real estate inquiries, even opportunities for new business startups.”
Others expecting a boon from the new visitors include the staff at the county’s Department of Economic Development.
Kay Tracy, business recruitment manager, said the new visitors’ impact will be felt throughout the county. She said the increase in tourism will expand into construction, maintenance, office positions and management roles, as some may choose to relocate to Charlotte County.
“Increased tourism demand encourages the improvement of local infrastructure,” she said, adding that the enhancements will not only cater to visitors but also will improve the quality of life for local residents.
The spotlight on the county will attract a variety of businesses beyond the hospitality sector, and diversification is crucial for economic resilience, reducing the community’s reliance on any single industry, Tracy said.
Doherty said tourist development tax collections are sure to increase.
“This past fiscal year, $7.5 million was collected. With the addition of the 785 rooms that Sunseeker brings to the mix, we obviously expect to see a significant increase in TDT this fiscal year, but it’s difficult to project at this time until we have a better idea of what their occupancy pattern will be like.”
Doherty said the VCB instructed its research company to include the cruise lines’ visitors in future surveys to understand the impact they are making.
The local real estate market likely will benefit from the cruise line’s stops in Punta Gorda, said Danny Nix, president of the Realtors of Punta Gorda-Port Charlotte-North Port-DeSoto Inc. He sells commercial real estate, and spouse Carla Nix sells residential properties as part of The Nix Team in Punta Gorda.
Noting that cash buyers already have begun to arrive this season, the Charlotte County market has not been in a slump like much of the country, Danny Nix said.
“We are further bolstered by the opening of Sunseeker Resort and the American Cruise Lines visitors discovering our area and all that it has to offer,” he said.
Carla Nix said, “While it is hard to tell how quickly they may fall in love and transition into buyers/investors in real estate, it certainly will have a positive impact over time, for which we are thrilled.”