Coronavirus could mean rough seas ahead for the cruise ship industry

Published: Mar. 11, 2020 at 4:23 PM AKDT
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Each year, cruise ship passengers come in droves to Alaska. last year was record-breaking. This year, it's still up in the air as to how the spread of COVID-19 will affect those numbers.

Tourism officials said a 12% growth in cruise arrivals in 2019 contributed to the

, but with a slight decrease in expected cruise ship berths for 2020, tourism officials were expecting this year to be second-best, as far as numbers go. Now, with all the concern surrounding COVID-19, tourism officials are saying only time will tell.

"It's really too early for us to speculate," said community engagement director for Visit Anchorage, Jack Bonney. "There's obviously a lot that changes day to day in this. So it's something we're monitoring very closely. We understand that it could change and we're prepared to make adjustments to our marketing and our promotions efforts if need be."

Recently the U.S. State Department advised that Americans should avoid cruises during the coronavirus outbreak, but tourism officials are trying to stay optimistic as COVID-19 has yet to reach Alaska -- at least for now.

"So far, all of those sailings are on track," said Bonney. "We haven't seen any changes to the schedule, so at least from a capacity standpoint, we're right where we were at the beginning of the year."

While industry officials remain hopeful for this year's cruise season, Bonney says it's still important for travelers to make informed decisions and follow the direction of health officials when deciding whether or not to go on a cruise at this time. It's also not the first time the tourism industry has dealt with the fear of widespread disease affecting numbers.

"This isn't the first time that we've seen a potential downturn whether it be for economic reasons, or for reasons like SARS or bird flu," Bonney said. "We've been in these similar kinds of situations before, and the long term lesson is that as important as it is to moderate your efforts to match the needs at the moment, we also have to stay in the market, because at some point this does get better. The market does rebound, and you have to be able to capitalize on the pent up demand after the fact."

Wednesday, the Port of Seattle announced the cancellation of all sailings planned for April 1 through 5. Juneau's city manager, Rorie Watt, says in light of this, they're continuing to monitor cruise ship issues, and that borough officials will "make decisions at the appropriate times based on guidance from public health officials."

During one of his briefings earlier this week, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state is paying close attention to how other cruise port cities are handling the outbreak to develop protocols as Alaska prepares for tourism season.

"The most important focus for us is going to be on our Alaskans in our communities, and I want to ensure those communities that receive cruise ship passengers and cruise ships that we are going to make sure that before the ships come in that we've done everything, we've done all of our due diligence," Said Gov. Dunleavy Monday. "We have protocols in place, protections for Alaskans first and foremost, but again, we are fortunate we have some time to make sure these protocols are developed."

Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) announced this week the adoption of

in response to Covid-19.

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