Overnight passenger cruise boats generated $4 million for the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley in 2019, when 19,000 tourists started or ended their river journeys in Asotin County.

That finding was released Tuesday in an economic impact assessment study prepared for the ports of Lewiston and Clarkston by the McDowell Group, a Pacific Northwest research and consulting firm.

In the last decade, the number of overnight cruise boat passengers has ranged from a low of about 4,000 passengers in 2013 to the high of 19,000 in 2019, according to the study.

The numbers dropped to zero this year as the coronavirus pandemic prevented cruise boats from traveling between Portland and Clarkston on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

Most vessels have, however, made plans to return in 2021, said Port of Clarkston Manager Wanda Keefer.

American Cruise Lines and American Queen Steamboat Co., which brought in more than 90 percent of the passengers in 2019, have reservations for Port of Clarkston docks in 2021, she said.

American Cruise Lines, which carried 58 percent of passengers in 2019, is adding a fourth vessel in 2021, Keefer said.

At this stage, federal rules would allow them to resume their itineraries, but restrictions in Oregon and Washington are preventing that, she said.

When the vessels return, a number of safeguards will be in place to limit the spread of COVID-19, Keefer said.

Cruise lines are generally planning to run at 75 percent capacity and have extra room on board to quarantine passengers or crew members if they get ill, she said.

“When it does happen, (cruise boat companies and health officials) will try to err on the side of caution,” Keefer said.

The restoration of overnight cruise boats in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley will provide a potentially lucrative opportunity for hospitality businesses in the area, according to the study.

Each of the 19,000 passengers in 2019 spent $148, for a total of $2.8 million, according to the study.

The major categories were shopping ($50), dining ($40) and tours ($39), according to the study.

“Cruise passengers make a variety of purchases while in the area, including eating in local restaurants, shopping for souvenirs, and taking local excursions like the jet-boat tour to Hells Canyon,” according to the study. “Some also add on nights to their trip by staying in local lodging.”

Those dollars help support 50 jobs with a combined payroll of $994,000 at the peak of the visitor season, according to the study.

Those numbers might grow even more in the future. American Cruise Lines passengers, for example, are provided one hotel room night as part of their package, but only one-third stay in Clarkston. The remainder go to Spokane.

Plus, a lack of transportation connecting hotels to retail areas and closures of stores on Sundays and Mondays reduces spending.

“Passengers ending their cruise in Clarkston are reportedly less likely to spend than those starting their cruise: they are more likely to be too tired from their trip to shop, and they may have expanded their travel budget in previous ports,” according to the study.

It isn’t just cruise boat passengers who patronize area businesses.

Cruise lines purchased more than $500,000 in fuel and provisions in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley for their voyages, while their crew members spent $144,000 on food and supplies at Albertsons, Walmart and Costco. They also went to bars and restaurants.

“Clarkston is usually their longest port call in the entire river itinerary, allowing crew more shore leave than other ports,” according to the study.

A second part of the look at the cruise boat industry, which will be released in February, will examine what amenities the area needs to better accommodate overnight passenger vessels.

Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.