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Fort Lauderdale's Ports Empower Tourism, Create Business Synergy

Not too long ago, hoteliers were threatened by cruise ships. They saw the industry as a rival siphoning "heads from beds," room stays off their books and cash from their coffers. All that has changed.

Today hotel owners and local tourism leaders play host to at least 18% of those 3.3 million guests who cruise out of Port Everglades (up from 11% the previous year). That's tens of thousands of room nights and a $30-million economic impact.

Cruise lines and hotels, like the Ritz-Carlton (above), Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood and the AAA four-diamond Lago Mar Resort & Club in Harbor Beach (below), now steer traffic to one another.

A significant share are foreigners who stay over before and after their cruise; to wit, some 25% of the Allure and Oasis guests are international, says John Fox, vice president of government relations with Royal Caribbean.

"We are very much a port of call in our own right," says Nicki E. Grossman, president/CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

The region has come a long way since 1961, when the Connie Francis movie Where the Boys Are put Fort Lauderdale on the spring break map, and 1985, when city leaders cracked down on Spring Breakers in an effort to transform its beaches back to a family-friendly destination. The move "was a facelift and a lobotomy," jokes Grossman, who was a county commissioner at the time. The move paved the way for cruising and hospitality to come together. It worked — and few look back.

Rivalry has become synergy. Hotels now plan for the cruise-guest overnighters. Some offer free shuttle service from the airport to the hotel and then the seaport. The 192-room Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale, which opened in 2008, now offers a "Bon Voyage" package. For their part, hoteliers have found welcome grounds here. The luxury brand W Hotel opened its 517-unit, beachfront property in 2009. The Westin Diplomat in Hollywood opened in 2008 on the site of the famed 1958 resort that drew the likes of Sammy Davis Jr. then, and cruise guests today.