ASTA, ARTA criticize Hawaii cruise measure

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WASHINGTON -- Norwegian Cruise Lines remained silent last week about its plan for basing a ship in Hawaii, but a Congressional action to restrict cruise ship operations in the state had no shortage of critics elsewhere in the industry.

ASTA and ARTA separately criticized the federal action after Congress passed a measure that would ban cruise ships with casinos from offering cruises that begin and end in Hawaii.

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Hawaii's governor also blasted the action, as did Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The measure, authored by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), appears to scuttle Norwegian Cruise Line's plan to make Hawaii the home port next year for the SuperStar Leo, now in the fleet of its parent Star Cruises.

As most observers understand Inouye's action, the ship could not be based in Hawaii unless the casinos were removed.

"The legislation as we understand it goes too far," said William Maloney, ASTA staff executive vice president.

ARTA president John Hawks said the measure "gives consumers only one choice for Hawaii cruises and that's bad news for agents."

J. Michael Cry, president of the International Council of Cruise Lines, a trade group representing the 16 largest cruise lines, said the legislation "seems counterproductive to attracting additional tourism revenue" to Hawaii.

Meanwhile, NCL reiterated an earlier statement that it needed time to review Congress' action "thoroughly" before it could comment.

Several suppliers and tourism officials in Hawaii also declined to comment on the legislation that has quickly become a hot potato. Some privately called the last-minute maneuver by Inouye, a powerful tourism advocate, "protectionist" but most declined to be quoted.

"I wouldn't touch that one with a 10-foot pole," said one supplier operating in the islands, while another supplier in Hawaii retracted his comments against the bill over concerns that they might spur reprisals.

Under the narrowly worded measure, which was tacked on to a labor appropriations bill that President Clinton is expected to sign, a cruise ship could not begin and end a cruise in Hawaii if it has a casino -- even if the casino is closed.

The measure would not affect cruise ships that only call on the islands so long as the gambling facilities are closed when the vessel is in Hawaii and the passengers don't embark from Hawaii, which prohibits gambling in the state.

Inouye said he sponsored the measure out of concern that cruise ships might attempt to circumvent the state's gaming laws to operate shipboard casinos while in port, by using a loophole in the Gambling Devices Transportation Act, a federal law regulating gaming on cruise ships.

Inouye indicated that he was specifically concerned about NCL, calling it "a foreign cruise line that is substantially owned by foreign gaming interests."

Ironically, Dec. 13, two days before Congress quickly passed the measure, NCL vice president of strategic planning Michael Pawlus was making a presentation before the Hawaii Tourism Authority, in which he assured officials that there would be no gaming on the Superstar Leo while in port.

Critics of the legislation said it appeared as if Inouye was going out of his way to help American Hawaii Cruises. In 1997, Congress approved Inouye-sponsored legislation that allowed American Hawaii Cruises to temporarily add re-flagged foreign vessels, such as the Patriot, to its fleet. Inouye's wife was dubbed the Patriot's "godmother" when she christened the ship earlier this year.

Speaking on the Senate floor, McCain said Inouye "has once again gone to great lengths to provide protectionist legislation to the lone U.S. operator of large cruise ships in Hawaii."

McCain said the legislation provides American Hawaii Cruises with the protection they need to keep out other cruise operators who depend on gaming to attract passengers.

ICCL's Cry said the Inouye provision could cost Hawaii hundreds of millions of dollars over time, since "every home port call by a major cruise ship generates approximately $1 million for the local economy."

At least one supplier estimated that NCL had plans for over 200 port calls a year in Hawaii. While conceding the legislation appeared to be directed at NCL, Cornel Martin, vice president of corporate affairs for American Classic Voyages, American Hawaii's parent, said casinos never were an issue for his company.

"We knew going into Hawaii that gambling wasn't allowed," Martin said. "So it has never been part of our business plan. In fact, we spent quite a bit of money taking the casino out of the Patriot," after the former Nieuw Amsterdam was acquired from Holland America. It went into service in Hawaii Dec. 16.

The casino, Martin said, was replaced with a Hawaii Destination Learning Center.

State's governor joins the chorus

HONOLULU -- Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano said a move by Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) to ban cruise ships with casinos from starting and ending itineraries in Hawaii is bad for the state's economy.

"I think the federal legislation is bad," Cayetano told Travel Weekly. "It may stifle other cruise ship lines from coming to Hawaii."

Inouye's measure is expected to be signed by President Clinton and could hurt plans by Norwegian Cruise Line to base its 1,960-passenger SuperStar Leo here next year. Cruise ship gaming regulations should be handled at the state level, not at the federal level, Cayetano added.

Cayetano has been an advocate of growing the cruise ship industry in Hawaii, and he supports the idea of investing in upgrades to the state's port infrastructure in order to draw more cruise ships here.

NCL's vice president of strategic planning, Michael Pawlus, told members of the Hawaii Tourism Authority during a recent presentation that its SuperStar Leo would contribute $99 million a year to the state's economy, and that's not including air fares and hotel stays related to cruise vacations.

Doug Oakley and Brian Major contributed to this report.

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