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Tourism on right track, but ECA impacts loom

Alaska Resource Development Council: December 2012 Resource Review
By Marleanna Hall

There were more visitors to Alaska in 2012 than 2011, and there were more for 2011 than 2010.

Things are on the right track for tourism right now, said Ralph Samuels, RDC board vice president and Vice President, Government and Community Relations, Holland America Line.

About 60% of the visitors to Alaska come on a cruise ship each year, with another 10% returning to Alaska after having previously taken a cruise. In 2013, over one million passengers are expected to travel to Alaska on a cruise ship.

Tourism has an economic impact to Alaska of $3.4 billion, and provides 36,000 jobs annually. Taxes from the tourism industry, including bed taxes, pay boroughs, municipalities, and the state.

But the industry faces a challenge that is much larger than any issue tourism has faced in the past, he added.

While for other industries in which the resources are where they are, such as oil, gold, and timber, cruise assets are mobile, Samuels explained. In 2006, a ballot initiative added a $50 head tax to cruise ship travelers, which resulted in a loss of bookings and cruise ship deployments to Alaska.

Now, Alaska is facing the North America Emission Control Area (ECA), which requires the use of more expensive fuel in the ECA area. For cruises to Alaska, that means burning the more expensive fuel 100% of the time.

It is not only a problem for tourism, it will impact the cost of goods for all Alaskans. Vessels carrying 85% of goods to Alaska are also in the ECA, and are now required to burn the .1% fuel, with a further reduction to .001% in 2015.

The State of Alaska has filed a lawsuit against the federal government over ECA, and RDC has filed as an intervener. Three non-government environmental groups have filed to intervene on behalf of the federal government.

Editor’s note: At publishing, RDC has been granted intervener status.

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