By Dimitra Lavrakas
Senior Voice Travel Correspondent 

Travel conditions remain in turmoil 

Cruise ship industry looks to 2021


November 1, 2020

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

A White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad train pulls up to one of the cruise ship docks in Skagway Harbor.

I keep on thinking of that line from the old Laurel and Hardy routine, "Well, that's a fine kettle of fish you've gotten us in." Indeed, thanks to the coronavirus it is a trying time for a travel writer.

Still there are things happening in the cruise ship industry that holds out hope for next year to bring tourism dollars back into the state. 

In 2018, two million out-of-state visitors arrived in Alaska on a cruise ship. Tourism adds close to $2.2 billion a year to the state's economy. Plus, more than $126 million in state revenues and $88 million in municipal revenues are generated by Alaska's visitor industry through a variety of taxes and other fees, helping to fund services benefiting residents and communities, according to the Resource Development Council. The oil industry provides slightly more than twice that at $4.8 billion. 


Big hard times for little towns 

In Skagway no cruise ships docked this summer. 

"This is about survival for Skagway," said Mayor Andrew Cremata at a virtual Seatrade industry conference in October, adding that the cruise industry makes up as much as 95 percent of the town's overall revenue. Skagway had expected the best cruise ship season ever this summer and instead lost an estimated $160 million in revenue. 

To help town residents through the economic flat line, and to encourage people not to be panicked into leaving, the town has started distributing an Emergency Assistance and Economic Stimulus program to give $1,000 to every person who needs it. The program is funded with $5 million of the town's share of the CARES Act funding that totaled $7.4 million. When that $5 million dedicated cut of the funding runs out the checks will end. 

Some towns hope fewer come  

In late 2018, Mayor Mark Jensen of Petersburg proposed to ask Viking Cruises not to stop in town during the 2020 season because its ship held over 900. Local business owners balked and it never passed the assembly. And the pandemic halted all ships.

There's also been some discussion in Juneau about limiting the number of ships docking in the summer. And there was serious concern after more than 3.3 million pounds of garbage was dumped between Jan. and Oct, 31, 2019 in Juneau's landfill, which is privately operated.

In October 2019, after a record-breaking summer season, Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon formed a new visitor industry task force to look to the future of tourism in the town and whether the number of ships might be limited. But in April 2020 the task force decided not to put a cap on cruise ship passenger numbers, but did approve a limit on the number of ships per day. 


Icy Strait Point now has bragging rights 

Dimitra Lavrakas photo

A sign in a Skagway store window proclaims its local connection.

In October, the small Tlingit village of Icy Strait Point became the first U.S. cruise ship destination to ever win the prestigious international Seatrade Cruise "Port of the Year" Award. Near Hoonah, it's 35 miles west of Juneau. It bested Dover, England, and St. Petersburg, Russia, in spite of its cruise ship season being canceled. 

Fourteen independent cruise company judges picked Icy Strait Point because of its focus on Native Alaskan culture and also because 80 percent of the employees are Huna Totem Corporation's Tlingit shareholders. Hoonah has about 750 residents while Huna Totem has 1,450 shareholders. 

This is the first time in Seatrade's 14-year award history for an Alaska company to be recognized and nominated as a finalist, much less win, Russell Dick, President CEO of Huna Totem Corp., said in a press release.


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