The cancellation of the entire cruise season to Alaska would result in a loss of about R17,4 billion in direct spending. Picture: dennisflarsen/Pixabay.
The cancellation of the entire cruise season to Alaska would result in a loss of about R17,4 billion in direct spending. Picture: dennisflarsen/Pixabay.

Alaska was expecting a record 1.4 million cruise visitors, now it faces a summer with none.

By Hannah Sampson Time of article published Jun 25, 2020

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Most summers, Icy Strait Point near Hoonah, Alaska is filled with cruise passengers visiting restaurants and shops, whale watching, exploring on all-terrain vehicles, or hollering down a more-than-mile-long zip-line. The destination expected 450,000 visitors this year.

"We haven't had a ship yet," said Tyler Hickman, the senior vice president of Icy Strait Point. It has not yet opened as a result.

"The place is just so incredible, you just walk around and wish there was more people here to experience it with you," he said.

That's the story across Alaska, which had been in the midst of a seemingly unstoppable boom in cruise growth. The state was anticipating about 1.4 million cruise visitors during the season that stretches from late April until early October - a record.

So far, 99% of the projected capacity has been cancelled, says Mike Tibbles, vice president of government and community affairs for Cruise Lines International Association Alaska.

"This is tough news for not only for all the local businesses and employees who depend on cruise passenger spending but also tough for local communities who rely on taxes generated from passenger spending," he said in an email. Tibbles said the cancellation of the entire cruise season would result in a loss of about $1 billion (R17,4 billion) in direct spending.

Overall, Alaska tourism officials expected 2.2 million total visitors throughout the year.

"We don't expect the volume of visitors to reach any kind of level that was projected," said Sarah Leonard, president and chief executive of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. "We are seeing some travellers that are following the mandates come through the airport."

Earlier this month, the state rolled out requirements for visitors that include negative test results before heading to Alaska, which must be confirmed with a second test after arriving; testing upon arrival; and quarantining until results are known or for 14 days.

"Alaska does want to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus among Alaskans, but also for our guests. We want to provide a safe experience and still welcome people to Alaska," Leonard said. "It's about safety and health and operating responsibly, and I guess it's the way of the world now if people are travelling in a pandemic."

Major cruise lines have not yet worked out their plans for safely returning to sea since pausing all operations in mid-March, and a no-sail order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is keeping ships that can carry more than 250 people from sailing through at least July 24. An industry association recently announced that members would extend cancellations through at least September 15 - close to the end of the cruise season in Alaska.

Some ports in Alaska are still watching Norwegian Cruise Line, which said last week that it was "hopeful that through the support of the Alaska delegation and openness of mayors of Alaska port towns, we have the potential to resume voyages in September."

Still, at this point, the biggest hope to salvage any kind of cruise traffic appears to be with small U.S.-based lines that aren't subject to the CDC order or required to visit any ports in Canada. UnCruise Adventures, a small-ship operator with ships that can carry between 22 and 86 passengers, said last week that it plans to start week-long Alaska sailings on August 1 featuring remote wilderness hikes and solitude.

For now, Alaska residents describe an unusually quiet scene in areas that would normally be buzzing with visitors and seasonal workers.

"You go downtown and you expect to see four ships in and all the docks are empty," said Tibbles, who lives in Juneau.

In the meantime, the state is looking to its own residents to make up for some - though nowhere near all - of the loss. A campaign urging locals to "show up for Alaska" is offering discounts and other incentives for in-state travel.

"There's an opportunity in a weird way for Alaskans to experience their own backyard," Leonard said. "Because it's a little less busy and we have those wild open spaces for people to socially distance and still have a really great Alaskan adventure experience."

The Washington Post

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