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Skagway enjoys the return of large cruise ships, but some businesses are still struggling

The Celebrity Millennium in Skagway. (08/10/2021)
The Celebrity Millennium in Skagway. (08/10/2021)(KTUU)
Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 11:59 AM AKDT
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SKAGWAY, Alaska (KTUU) - After almost two years, the first large cruise ship arrived in Skagway in late July.

“It was amazing,” said Mayor Andrew Cremata. “I think everyone who was there was pretty moved by the moment.”

The Celebrity Millennium pulled into port again on Tuesday, again alone. The Norwegian Encore was set to join it, but it sailed straight onto Icy Strait Point in Hoonah.

Cremata said there had been some sort of medical emergency on board that required a passenger to be airlifted out. The ship was delayed and needed to make up time.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Line did not respond to a request for comment about the medical emergency before publication. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t welcome news.

The Celebrity Millennium marked the return of large cruise ships in Skagway on the famed...
The Celebrity Millennium marked the return of large cruise ships in Skagway on the famed Graffiti Wall. (08/10/2021)(KTUU)

“It’s a huge impact for us when we lose one cruise ship this particular season,” said Billi Clem, the owner and operator of Klondike Tours.

She drives tour buses that typically travel up White Pass and into Canada. The border may have reopened to nonessential travel, but Canada’s strict COVID-19 testing requirements means she’ll likely not be able to offer those international tours. Clem says business has been slow.

“We started in May and most of the season we’ve had one or two people on our buses,” Clem said.

Klondike Tours has two large tour buses, one has 24 seats and the other has 27 seats. In a normal summer, both would be full for three tours per day.

This will be far from a normal summer. Skagway is expecting to see around 100,000 cruise ship passengers through October compared to 1.1 million in 2019.

With no large cruise ships in 2020, the Municipality of Skagway faced a 95% drop in revenue. Cremata said federal COVID-19 relief will help bridge that gap this year, but it will only be in October that officials can determine what a shortened cruise ship season means for Skagway.

Downtown Skagway has been like "a ghost town" compared to normal bustling summers. (08/11/2021)
Downtown Skagway has been like "a ghost town" compared to normal bustling summers. (08/11/2021)(KTUU)

Some stores remain shuttered across town. Retail has struggled and so has getting staff needed to operate. Clem said it’s been like a “ghost town” compared to normal summers.

Karl Klupar, the owner of the Historic Skagway Inn, owns several tourism-related businesses around town. His restaurant is seeing around 10% of its typical business and his hotel is at roughly 50%.

“Yeah, that’s a bright spot,” he said.

Klupar and Clem have needed to pivot during the pandemic. Klupar started operating the gift store at the Iditarod Race Headquarters in Wasilla, Clem took a city contract to run buses in Skagway. She’s also teaching art classes.

“With that, we’re trying to do all that we can in order to make little bits of money with everything otherwise we’re not going survive until next season,” Clem said.

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