The ships have already started sailing into Boston Harbor as the city gets ready to host 45 tall ships for Sail Boston 2009. It's one stop in the trans-Atlantic regatta that begins in Spain and continues on to Halifax, Canada from Boston, before finishing in Ireland.
This year's Tall Ships festival is a scaled-down event compared to years past because of disagreements with the city over public safety costs. Tall ships events in Boston have been major tourist events, generating money for restaurants, hotels and retailers.
To find out how big it might be — or won't be — this year, we spoke to Pat Moscaritolo, president and CEO of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Bob Oakes: Let me ask you first of all, Pat, how many tourists are going to turn out for this year's event?
Pat Moscaritolo: Somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000, depending on the weather. If we get great weather, we'll probably have 400,000 people over the next four to five days. And they pack a pretty important economic punch for our visitor industry, given all that has happened this past year with the downturn in economic activity as it relates to the visitor industry.
Let's put that into perspective though, 300,000 to 400,000. When we spoke about the tall ships visit back in May, you then predicted that there would be 800,000 visitors. So you've scaled that down. Why?
Primarily because we are not having a parade of sail this year. Normally, on the first day, you would have these 45 ships that would be coming in over the horizon and sailing in to Boston Harbor. It's pretty much a day-long event and the parade of sail attracts large amounts of people.
I mean, it's a grand parade of sail — large amounts of people — but with it come large costs as well, and that just wasn't feasible in this economic environment.
Looking further back — 300,000 to 400,000 is way off from seven million visitors who came in the year 2000. Is that the economy and the lack of a parade of sail?
I think it's pretty much the economy. The seven million that were here over the year 2000, that's many people coming many times, so that's the total number of people that were getting off and on the MBTA buses — that's a count that actually comes from people that boarded buses to go down to the waterfront.
But, today, the world is so much different than it was in 2000 — it's interesting, both in Bermuda and in Charlestown, where the ships have been before they entered Boston Harbor last night and during the day today, there was no parade of sail when the ships came into those harbors as well.
Are the hotels booked, are restaurant reservations up?
Well, I'll tell you, there clearly are some winners — big-time winners — and then there are some businesses that aren't going to do as well.
Unfortunately the hotels will not see the same kind of business activity that was seen in 1992 or 2000. On the other hand...
Because there aren't as many visitors?
Because there aren't as many visitors. Because there aren't — without the parade of sail, many tour companies sold hundreds and hundreds of tours that included three- and four-night stays at hotels, packaging together the parade of sail with stays at hotels.
So that's not happening this year. There are still some people coming in to see the event from around the region, and they'll stay maybe one or two nights, or in some cases three nights, at the hotel.
I like to say that this event is significantly different than previous events because we are now attracting people from Salem, New Hampshire, and Salem, Massachusetts, but not Salem, Oregon, where we were drawing people back in '92 and 2000.
It's much more a local event, it's much more a regional event, but with all that said, it still has a significant economic punch to it.
You said a moment ago, "On the other hand," as you were going to talk about the winners.
The winners being restaurants, because when you have 300,000 to 400,000 people coming down to the waterfront, they'll be able to board the ships and then they'll move on and pretty much go down to the restaurants that are in the seaport district and along the waterfront, and probably make their way back to restaurants in Faneuil Hall Marketplace and even into Copley Square.
So restaurants win big, I believe. Also what we're seeing is those sightseeing cruise boats that you see in Boston Harbor, that do lunches and dinner tours of the harbor, they are doing very well. I've talked to most of them. In some cases their business is doubling, in some cases it's up 50 percent, and all of them said to me, without the Sail Boston activities this week, without the ships being in, their business definitely would be down.
Even though there are winners in this event, economic winners, I think I have to ask: With the number of visitors way off, is it worth it?
I think it is. I mean it's still 50,000 to 60,000 people a day that normally would not be coming down to the waterfront. And when you have an event like Tall Ships, it helps basically reinforce Boston's brand as a maritime city, a great harbor city, its history that began literally from the harbor.
So I think when you have those 300,000 to 400,000 people, many of them will come back again. So it's an opportunity to showcase your destination, to showcase your city, to showcase all that Boston has to offer.
So I would say that, if we took a snapshot in time, it's a terrific economic punch in activity, but it also has long-term impacts. It would be as if you threw a huge boulder into a little stream and saw the rippling impact of that. Rippling out, for our visitor industry, is a great opportunity, because it can create repeat visits and people coming with friends and colleagues based on their experience here this week.
And for those folks listening on the other end of the radio, listening this morning, who are looking maybe for the one or two things to do during Sail Boston, what would you recommend?
I would definitely recommend going down on Saturday or Sunday, on the weekend — because there'll be less traffic at that point in time, with people going to their offices in the seaport district — and boarding some of the ships.
They're open to the public. There are some glorious, glorious ships. The South American ships, the Russian ship, they're down in the seaport district at the World Trade Center or the Fish Pier.
I'd also suggest that there is a huge parade and event — what I would call a liberty party — for the crews. I mean, there are 16 different countries, about 1,800 cadets that will be here, and Downtown Crossing is doing events.
So if you're in the Downtown Crossing area this weekend, you'll be able to see these young men and women from literally all around the world.
A fun multi-cultural event.
Very much so.
This program aired on July 8, 2009.