This coming season looks more like a repeat of last year, tempered by single-digit growth, somewhere in the 3% to 4% range. The return to more normal growth rates and the expanding collaboration Alaska has seen in recent months gives communities, businesses and the industry the room they need to better manage visitor impacts and adjust local labor forces.
While some larger ships will visit this year, the overall visitation count will be lower. Juneau’s five-ship-per-day limit goes into effect, a recommendation of the community’s Visitor Industry Task Force and formalized in a Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2022. This change will essentially cap significant overall cruise passenger growth to the region.
The 2024 season will be slightly longer, running a full seven months from early April though the end of October with 50 ships calling on the state.
One major new dock is scheduled to open this season. Phase one of the $80 million Head of the Bay facility in Whittier is a joint venture between Huna Totem Development Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line and the City of Whittier. It includes a new double-sided dock, as well as a new terminal building where passengers will disembark. The 2,402-passenger Norwegian Jade has scheduled 24 sailings to and from it this season.
Na-Dena’ takes holistic approach to statewide tourism
The formation of Na-Dena’ in 2022 marks the beginning of a new era in sustainable tourism for our state, said its founders Huna Totem Corporation and Doyon Ltd. “Our partnership will provide balance to over-visited areas with other natural wonders and culturally significant destinations, encouraging travelers to ‘spend one more day’ and creating additional opportunity in Alaska’s fastest growing industry,” said Huna Totem’s CEO and President Russell Dick.
The joint venture is taking a holistic approach to statewide tourism, connecting the modern-day traveler with historic traditions, crafting new turnkey excursion packages. One of its first business moves was purchasing a majority interest in Alaska Independent Coach Tours, which has since moved its six, new, low-emissions coaches to Anchorage. The goal is to eventually operate as many as 50 motor coaches in Southcentral and the Interior.
Na-Dena` and Klawock Heenya Corporation are working on a new cruise destination in Klawock similar to Icy Strait Point near the Tlingit village of Hoonah. The new port embraces Alaska Native culture, giving guests opportunities to experience totem carving traditions, fishing and wildlife viewing, while balancing the needs of the small village and its people.
In Juneau, Huna Totem is permitting a $150 million development on the waterfront called Aak’w Landing. In addition to a new cruise ship dock, the project will include a culture and science center, retail space and underground parking.
Smoother sailing in Skagway
With upgrades including a new floating pier at Skagway’s ore dock and remediation of a rockslide area above the railroad dock, this community will now be able to host two post-Panamax cruise ships simultaneously. The past two seasons have seen disruptions from rock slides and a remaining large rock that overhangs part of the dock.
‘With the municipality preparing to take over full control of its waterfront for the first time in 55 years, Skagway will be able to provide more and better facilities for the biggest ships in the growing cruise industry, and at the same time offer the shortest route to and from the Arctic for ocean freight and commodities,’ said Steve Hites, who operates the Skagway Street Car Co.
Finding the right answers in Sitka
With the number of cruise visitors more than doubling over the past two seasons, Sitka is having a serious conversation about how to handle as many as 13,000 visitors a day in a community of 8,300 residents. While businesses welcomed increased sales and residents appreciated the rise in sales tax revenue, the community found the increasing congestion frustrating.
Much of the problem stems from the need to better disperse the visitors. Historically cruise ships anchored offshore and would lighter passengers into town where they would quickly disperse on foot, on a pre-booked tour or by other modes of transportation available at the docks. Today most ships tie up at the privately owned Sitka Sound Cruise Terminal and board 60-passenger buses to be driven five miles to the Harrigan Centennial Hall. This leads to major congestion and environmental concerns.
Chris McGraw, who owns the private terminal, has been working on plans to cut bus shuttling down by half in the next five years, by spreading out arrival times and developing more tours and attractions out the road to distribute more passengers to activities closer to the terminal, and to reduce the volume of bus traffic.
“One of my primary goals is to distribute passengers throughout Sitka and the surrounding area better and reduce the demand on our shuttle to downtown,” McGraw said. “By developing new tour products, and increasing opportunities, it will help get people out on boats and other excursions, which will reduce that congestion.” .
A broad-based visitor task force has also been meeting to make additional recommendations.
Collaboration is working in Alaska, the premier cruise destination in America.