"Things are quiet here" - the impact of 2020's cruise season in Southeast Alaska

Published: Jun. 9, 2020 at 7:07 PM AKDT
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During the summer, the city of Juneau along with other major cruise destinations in Southeast Alaska are usually bustling with eager tourists getting a glimpse of the beauty in this state. However, because of the coronavirus, those cruise towns are looking more like ghost towns.

According to Liz Perry, President and CEO of Travel Juneau the city was on a hot streak of visitors. In the past five years, she said more and more tourists poured off the ships that keep getting bigger and bigger.

This year, they were expecting somewhere around 1.4 million people to come by air and sea, what would have been a record number. While the travelers in that data set are combined, she said that cruise passengers account for up to 93% of the tourists that come visit.

"Juneau is a bustling town generally from about 7:30 or so in the morning, til 9:30 ten o'clock at night when those last ships leave," Perry said.

Now, there's only the roughly 33,000 people who live there populating the town.

Much of the data that Travel Juneau uses to monitor visitors comes from the McDowell Group, a research analysis company. Heather Haugland is a senior analyst with the group.

Haugland broke down the numbers to show that those cruise tourists spend a lot of money in the state.

"Back in Summer 2016, they reported spending $624 per person," she said, "that's statewide, but two-thirds of passengers are just on Southeast itineraries."

It doesn't take a calculator to understand that that means hundreds of millions of dollars are being lost in Alaska's economy just from cruise passengers.

That money is being spent on everything from food, souvenirs, various tours, and a number of activities. A great deal of the time, it's local operators offering the service.

Perry said a great deal of those owners and operators are trying to adjust to serve locally, but it's simply not feasible for some. For example, she said someone running a helicopter tour can't realistically pay for overhead and insurance with only some local customers.

Haugland said the sad reality is that many business owners in the area are going to have to try to hold on until next summer.

"They haven't had any income since last September," she said, "and they have to last another year and a half until next summer. Presuming that the industry recovers."

The Cruise Line Industry Association in Alaska replied to emails about the future of the cruise industry here. Spokespeople said that some members are trying to adjust in time to offer some voyages later in the summer but nothing is confirmed at this time.

It's like that 2020's poor cruise season will also affect future travel numbers as well. Perry said that studies have shown that nearly one out of every five people that comes to Alaska on their own via plane did so after coming in on a cruise ship earlier. She said that they normally come back within about five years of their first experience.

Copyright 2020 KTUU. All rights reserved.

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