Southeast residents fear what a second summer with no cruise ships could mean

Cruise ships in Juneau
Cruise ships in Juneau
Published: Feb. 4, 2021 at 5:44 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - For Kylee Fairbanks, Juneau offered a chance to make some money during the summers. She worked for a fish hatchery and a fishing charter. Many of her friends made a good living in the tourism industry each summer when thousands of visitors would sail into Juneau turning the town of more than 30,000 into a big city, seemingly overnight.

But that didn’t happen last year and it most likely won’t happen again in 2021.

Thursday morning, news spread through town that Canada had extended its ban on cruise ships through February 2022. It will most likely prohibit cruise ships from reaching Alaska this summer, which would be financially devastating to Southeast.

“Every year that’s a huge income for the town and city of Juneau so it’s definitely put a lot of stress, and a lot of negativity, on the way we do things here,” Fairbanks said.

Southeast relies heavily on tourism. It’s a place where most people either work in the visitor industry, or know someone who does. Skagway, Ketchikan and others brim with tourists who, cameras in hand, flood the streets looking for souvenirs and cultural experiences in some of the most lush rain forests in the country. The majority of them arrive on large cruise ships that appear dockside like floating towns.

According to the cruise ship industry, Alaska’s tourism economy accounted for one in 10 jobs in the state accounting for more than $4 billion in spending in 2017. 2018 was also expected to mean a booming business of more than 2 million visitors.

But that didn’t happen after coronavirus spread across the world and tourism companies halted most operations. The Cruise Lines International Association says that one-third of all visitor spending in Alaska happens in Southeast.

“I know a lot of business are already thinking about shutting down,” said Lisa Morely, a Juneau resident since 1995.

Bob Bartholomew, the former City and Borough of Juneau Finance Director, said Juneau is lucky because it has mining and fishing to diversify its economy.

Still, not having the cruise ships in town will be a problem.

“It’s going to be really hard on the bushiness that did whatever they could do to get through this year and now they have to get through a second season,” Bartholomew said. “And they’ll probably not be as much financial support. So, I think it will be really hard.”

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