Southeast Alaska tourism businesses reeling from Canadian cruise ship ban: ‘It’s cataclysmic’

FILE - In this May 30, 2018, file photo, is the Grand Princess cruise ship in Gastineau Channel...
FILE - In this May 30, 2018, file photo, is the Grand Princess cruise ship in Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska. The Canadian government has extended a ban on cruise ships through February 2022, which is expected to block trips from visiting Alaska this year. Transport Canada announced the extension of the ban put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)(AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)
Published: Feb. 5, 2021 at 7:34 PM AKST
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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - Southeast Alaska tourism businesses are reeling after Canada extended its cruise ship ban until next February, likely ending Alaska’s large cruise ship summer sailing season.

“It’s cataclysmic, it’s such an important part of the state’s economy, certainly Southeast Alaska’s economy,” said Zak Kirkpatrick, a spokesperson for Allen Marine Tours.

The family-owned company has been operating in Southeast since 1967 and is one of the region’s largest private-sector employers, typically hiring 600 staff working in the summer. This year is uncertain.

It also operates Alaska Dream Cruises, which are small U.S. flagged ships that are able to sail in Alaska this summer.

Allen Marine Tours will be open in the summer for independent travelers and Alaskans, likely taking tours to Glacier Bay and Tracy’s Arm, but that won’t make up the shortfall from losing the summer cruise ship season.

“Those tours and experiences for us, and many other companies, are very supplemental at best,” Kirkpatrick said.

Gastineau Guiding is looking at a similar level of uncertainty for 2021. Sierra Gadaire, the Juneau-based company’s general manager, said Thursday’s announcement was a “gut punch.”

Large cruise ships didn’t come to Alaska in 2020 and the company didn’t have a season. Gadaire said Gastineau Guiding solely serves large cruise ships and their passengers. She didn’t know if the company would try to pivot to serve independent travelers in 2021.

The owners of brick and mortar stores face a difficult year ahead, too.

Jack Tripp, the owner of Mt. Juneau Trading Post, said his store saw an 81% decline in revenue in 2020. The Canadian government’s decision to extend the ban came as a surprise.

“It’s very difficult to plan when you don’t know the rules of the game,” Tripp said.

He joined other business owners in hoping that Alaska’s federal lawmakers can secure a waiver that would allow large cruise ships to visit the state without stopping in Canada first.

Tripp said his business would survive 2021, but others likely wouldn’t.

Southeast Alaska, and much of Alaska in general, faces another year of economic hardship if no large cruise ships come. Southeast Conference reported that the region lost $800 million in revenue from the non-existent 2020 cruise ship season. That revenue loss hit the region unevenly.

Skagway’s Mayor Andrew Cremata said the municipality is now looking into how it will survive on 6% of its usual revenue. He is going to speak to the Skagway Assembly on Tuesday to lay out a plan for how the city and its residents would financially survive 2021.

Cremata said he would be lobbying Alaska’s congressional delegation to get relief for Skagway. “Barely getting by is a whole lot better than not getting by,” he said.

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