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Cruise season starts Sunday in earnest

By Nick Bowman, Daily News Staff Writer

Sunday marks the start of Ketchikan’s cruise season, in which an estimated 948,800 passengers will flow through the First City.

The Crystal Serenity will be the first large ship in Ketchikan this year, docking at 7 a.m. at Berth 2, according to the 2016 ship calendar. The boutique cruise ship can carry 1,070 passengers and 655 crew.

Holland America’s Volendam arrives at noon on Monday, and after two no-ship days the Nieuw Amsterdam will make its first-ever stop in Ketchikan.

The Holland America ship first sailed in 2010, but has never visited Ketchikan. The replacement for the Amsterdam, which visited in 2015, can carry 2,106 passengers and docks at 10 a.m. on Berth 2.

Port activity is scheduled to pick up on May 16, Ketchikan’s first four-ship day. Five ships dock for the first time on May 27, after which it’s off to the races for Ketchikan tourism.

The City of Ketchikan estimates cruise passengers spend more than $100 each while in Ketchikan. If the trend holds in 2016, more than $110 million would be spent by tourists this summer.

The Volendam is scheduled to be the last ship in Ketchikan this year, stopping from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sept. 30.

While the 38 different vessels making a scheduled 489 port calls promise a busy season for the First City, the number of passengers is almost the same as in 2015.

Last year, 944,500 cruise passengers came to Ketchikan, according to information from the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, only a few thousand less than the figure expected for 2016.

Statewide tourism remains on the upswing, as almost 1.8 million people visited Alaska in 2015 compared to about 1.65 million in 2014.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association predicts an increase of 2 to 3 percent in 2016, according to the Alaska Department of Labor, which would put Alaska’s cruise passenger count above 1 million people for the first time in history.

But the largest ship to ever come to Alaska — the 3,835-passenger Explorer of the Seas from Royal Caribbean — won’t come to Ketchikan this year.

It will stop in British Columbia but pass by Ketchikan to Juneau and Skagway.

One area of local growth is air travel, as Delta Airlines continues to fly summer routes into Ketchikan as it moves to compete with Alaska Airlines in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.

Relatively few tourists arrive in Ketchikan by air, but Delta’s entry to the market still boosted the number of arrivals by four times the increases seen before it flew to Ketchikan.

In 2013, 27,177 visitors flew into the First City. In 2014, the number grew to only 28,284. However, when Delta started flights in 2015, 32,500 people visited Ketchikan by air.

With cruise ships, airlines and the Alaska Marine Highway System, an estimated 987,300 people are due to visit Ketchikan this year.

It’s a modest increase from 2015, but below the most recent peak of 990,804 visitors in 2013.

Cruise-dominated Southeast remains the second-largest tourism market in Alaska, next to Southcentral.

Tourists spend $798 million each year in Southcentral, according to the KVB, or 44 percent of Alaska’s overall visitor spending. Southeast spending is $591 million, or 32 percent.

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