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Projections show Alaska’s cruise industry just had a record-breaking season

By: Annie Zak
Alaska Dispatch News

Passengers disembarking from the Nieuw Amsterdam and other vessels in Juneau, August 2017. (Erik Hill / ADN file photo)

The number of people who came to Alaska on cruise ships this year appears to have set a record.

Alaska saw more than 1 million cruise passengers this season — a projected 1,067,432, to be exact, according to the industry group Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska. That number for the season, which generally runs from May 1 to Sept. 30, still needs to be finalized.

The projection for this summer surpasses the previous high of about 1,032,000 passengers in 2008. Thirty-three ships visited the state this year, on nearly 500 voyages, according to CLIA.

The growing number of passengers coming to the Last Frontier on cruises is one indicator of the strength of tourism in Alaska’s economy even in the state’s current recession.

[Alaska had more visitors last summer than ever before]

Larger ships have been replacing some smaller ones in Alaska’s waters. The number of ships coming here is growing, too, as is the number of voyages.

“The cruise companies … their assets are floating. Depending on what’s happening in different countries, different destinations, they can deploy ships to different itineraries,” said Sarah Leonard, CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. “That’s what we saw last year with an increase in an additional ship.”

An expanded Panama Canal also allows for larger ships to travel between Alaska and the Caribbean, said John Binkley, president of CLIA Alaska. (Binkley is the father of the members of Binkley Co. LLC, which owns Alaska Dispatch News.)

The cruise industry group expects growth to continue next year in Alaska, with a forecast for more than 1.1 million passengers. Globally, the sector also grew its passenger capacity in 2017, according to CLIA’s projections.

The summer of 2016 saw the highest number of visitors ever to the state, from cruises and otherwise, at 1.8 million.

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