BAR HARBOR – Some downtown merchants are concerned their businesses will be adversely affected if the town endorses a different drop-off site for the tens of thousands of cruise ship passengers who take tour bus rides through Acadia National Park every summer and fall.
A handful of business owners raised the issue Tuesday night with the Town Council as the council considered whether to allow for an alternate drop-off site from the current one near Agamont Park, which overlooks the town pier and harbor.
What concerned the business owners was the amount of business they say they experienced when the town experimented this past summer with having the tour buses discharge passengers next to the Village Green. That site is a few blocks south of where cruise ship passengers take tenders to and from cruise ships anchored in Frenchman Bay.
Jean Paul Taillon, owner of The Spot Grill, and Heather Sorokin, co-owner of the Thirsty Whale, said their businesses are dependent on cruise ship passengers and the tour bus drop-off sites that the town already has established. If the town were to change those sites, they said, it could end up having a drastic effect on their businesses and others.
Sorokin said she has spoken to 12 other downtown business owners or managers who have the same concern.
“We have built our businesses based on this business,” Sorokin said. “We’re not saying [alternate] drop-offs aren’t a good idea. I think maybe they are. But you have an obligation to your taxpayers to make sure you’re not hurting their businesses to a great extent.”
Both Sorokin and Taillon urged the council to conduct a study of how the drop-off points affect cruise ship passenger foot traffic.
Councilors, some of whom are downtown business owners, said how alternate drop-off sites may affect business traffic was not their concern. The point of trying different sites was to help highlight the town as a whole and to get cruise ship passengers to stay as long as possible and perhaps to return on their own.
“What we’re trying to do here is improve passenger satisfaction in town,” said Councilor Paul Paradis. “This recommendation is a big-picture recommendation.”
Councilors seemed to agree that if a study were to be done, it would be best left to the local Chamber of Commerce. Chris Fogg, executive director of the local Chamber, said the group would consider doing one.
Where cruise ship passengers go and what kind of onshore activities they pursue also depends on the cruise ship, several officials said. Some ships tend to have older passengers who stick a lot closer to the town pier than others do, they said.
Councilors also indicated that by approving the alternate drop-off site, they were not changing the normal unloading location. Several council members also indicated that they support the concept of providing tourists with better signs and maps to help disperse them to as many parts of the downtown area as possible.