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40,000 cruise ship passengers to visit Haines

By Emily Files

KHNS

The Celebrity Infinity pictured docked in Skagway in 2011 is one of two mega cruise ships that will visit Haines. (Flickr/Jasperado)

The Celebrity Infinity pictured docked in Skagway in 2011 is one of two mega cruise ships that will visit Haines. (Flickr/Jasperado)

With the help of a few moorage fee waivers, Haines is expecting more cruise ship passengers this summer. But predicted state cuts to ferry service might hurt the number of road visitors.

On May 26, June 1, and August 4, Haines residents will see some of the biggest cruise ships on Alaska waters docked in town. The 3,000-passenger Golden Princess and the 2,000-passenger Celebrity Infinity are boosting the total number of expected cruise ship visitors from about 30,000 last summer to 41,553 this year.

One incentive that drew those ships to Haines — waivers for moorage fees. Usually, cruise ships pay a certain amount of money to the borough when they dock in town. The borough assembly approved waiving fees of about $3,000 for the Golden Princess and the Infinity port calls. That adds up to about $9,000.

“I think waiving ship fees is a business decision — a financial decision of making our port…a better opportunity for ships to come in, as well as putting out the welcome mat to say, ‘Haines wants you here,’” said Borough Tourism Director Leslie Ross.

Ross says she and other borough staff are planning to present more information about waiving moorage fees to the borough assembly at the May 12th meeting.

“We’re looking into a few different options for offering incentives to the cruise ship industry to use the dock,” Ross said. “We have a port here that’s not being used, and the sales tax brought in by a cruise ship visit is fairly significant. If we were to offer incentives that were waiving or reducing fees at the dock, we should be able to make that up plenty [in sales tax.]”

The Golden Princess and Infinity are the two biggest of the ten cruise ships that will make 43 stops in Haines. Four of the ships have more than 1,000 passengers, and the other six are smaller vessels, with 30 to 700 passengers.

The first dockings are the Oosterdam and Alaskan Dream on May 20. But Haines will start seeing cruise ship visitors on May 5, when the first ships visit Skagway.

A representative from the Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry says they’ve boosted their number of sailings for this summer.

While Haines may see more cruisers in 2015, road visitors might dwindle because of expected Alaska Marine Highway cuts in the state budget.

“If [the state goes] forward with what they are discussing doing, which is taking off the Malaspina and the Taku and having the LeConte be our day ferry, that will be very devastating to our road traffic.”

Ross says limiting ferry sailings would cause a ‘significant loss’ of road visitors to Haines.

Aside from cruise ship and road travelers…

“I have heard that we have ten weddings in town, which can be a pretty significant amount of people coming in for those events,” Ross said. “And I know here at the visitors’ center, whenever we have weddings, and it looks like there’s a couple family reunions as well, we put together little packages for visitors. They get a little bundle in their hotel room.”

Those little bundles will have information about restaurants, shops and things to do in town, including a few new businesses. Two art galleries recently opened, one on Main St. and one in the Fort. Alaska Arts Confluence has a new storefront. A scooter tour business is expected to open, and the Aspen Hotel is set to open in June.

In the winter, Haines saw a new and huge tourism event – the Freeride World Tour ski and snowboard competition. Ross says there aren’t any new events on the summer roster. The usuals — Beer Festival, the Kluani Chilkat Bike Relay, and the Southeast Alaska State Fair are expected to draw thousands of people.

Ross says during those big events, the borough plans to step up efforts to deal with things like cleaning bathrooms and garbage pick-up, to make Haines a more welcoming destination.

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