Ketchikan prepares to welcome record 1.4 million cruise passengers
KETCHIKAN, Alaska (KTUU) - There is a buzz starting to fill the streets and port of Ketchikan ahead of this year’s cruise ship season.
“You can almost feel the anticipation,” said Delilah Walsh, the Ketchikan City Manager. “There’s something in the air. There’s something coming and you can sort of feel it in the city. We see our vendors opening up shops again, we see a lot of improvements happening in our downtown shops. A lot of our excursion and fishing boats are back in our harbor.”
Ketchikan is roughly a month away from beginning its largest cruise ship passenger season ever. The first ship is expected to dock in mid-April, Walsh said, with the last one sailing out of the city in October. In that time, the city is expecting to welcome an estimated 1.48 million passengers. The city is expecting 52 ships to dock in their ports this season, making a grand total of 675 port calls.
This will be the first regular cruise season Ketchikan has seen since 2019. That year, Walsh said, the city welcomed around 1.2 million passengers, which at the time was their largest season to date. But since the COVID-19 pandemic, their numbers have dwindled. In 2022, only approximately 687,000 passengers cruised into the city.
“Coming off of the pandemic and just some really tough times for local businesses here in Ketchikan, it’s exciting to see the industry coming back,” said Patti Mackey, the Ketchikan Visitor Bureau CEO and President.
Tourism is the leading industry in Ketchikan, Walsh said, bringing in yearly around $250 million in revenue to the community in addition to creating around 1,500 jobs. The city said it is expecting at least half of its seasonal workers will be returning for the season.
City officials are crafting a safety plan in order to address the additional congestion expected with the influx of over a million visitors.
“We want to make sure we keep the people moving and the traffic flowing,” Walsh said.
Walsh said the city is looking into making seasonal traffic flow changes or regulatory changes in its municipal code. Law enforcement and emergency personnel are already preparing to provide increased presence during port days.
“Keeping pedestrian safe, ensuring everyone is compliant with the Ketchikan municipal code and in addition to that being available for visitors as a resource,” Walsh said.
Despite the additional hustle and bustle that will be hitting the city next month, Mackey said she believes the city is prepared.
“While, yes, there are definitely some challenges, the community and the industry, local businesses here, have done a good job of trying to make sure that they are aware of them and do what they can to minimize the impacts,” Mackey said.
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