A group of Alaskans has formed a new organization to raise awareness of the value of cruise visitors to Alaska and clarify misperceptions, particularly those associated with the 2006 Cruise Ship Initiative.

Called Alaska ACT (Alaska Alliance of Cruise Travel), the group is totally independent from the cruise industry and was formed after the Alaska Cruise Association challenged most of the Initiative’s $50 passenger entry fee in federal court.

“The cruise industry is the faucet that floods the visitor industry,” Paul Landis, Chief Operating Officer for CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation, told the annual meeting of the Resource Development Council’s 30th annual conference.

But the faucet is closing. Landis said 2009 was brutal on his businesses and the ship redeployments will take Alaska back half a decade.

“They’re not making idle threats. They’re pulling ships because the real issue is the cost of sales,” he said.

Steve Hites, owner of the Skagway Street Car Company, went further and called the entry fee “extortion.”

“We knew that eventually the industry would pull ships because the real agenda here is to shut down tourism just like they’ve shut down oil and gas drilling, shut down timber, shut down mining and now they control fishing.”

The loss of ships mean local businesses will close, people will lose their jobs and then other businesses will be impacted, he said.

“We need leaders, statesmen. We need our governor to fly to Miami and tell Mickey Arison (CEO, Carnival Cruise Lines) and Kevin Sheehan (CEO, Norwegian Cruise Lines) that we want their business,” Hites told the group. “Every other destination in the world is out there asking for their business.”

Hites said Alaska needs to do four things to turn the ship loss around:

  1. Repeal or reduce passenger entry fee.
  2. Repeal or rewrite other unworkable parts of initiative, such as meeting clean water standards at the end of the pipe.
  3. Send the governor to Miami to ask for the industry business.
  4. “Fire back at the pirates.”

Earlier in the presentation, Rick Erickson, Operations Manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, outlined how the industry has worked with public and private entities to develop some of the best port infrastructure in the world.

These joint ventures include the new cruise dock and passenger terminal in Whittier, the new 2005 dock in Juneau, the 2005-06 dock expansion in Ketchikan and the 2007 fourth dock in Ketchikan.

Erickson also reviewed the impacts of the 2010 ship redeployments and said Alaska needs to lower the cost of doing business here and market itself as being open for business.

The tourism presentations, called Industry in Crisis, can be downloaded at www.akrdc.org.

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