Haines Mayor Jan Hill
This summer, Haines Mayor Jan Hill made it her mission to personally welcome each and every cruise ship passenger to the city she calls home. Manning a covered golf cart, Hill would greet passengers coming off the ship and transport them to shuttles and tour buses waiting at the far end of the dock.
Why would a busy city mayor dedicate one full day a week – often spending as many as 12 hours at the dock – visiting with cruise passengers and shuttling them back and forth? The reason is simple, Hill said. “First and foremost, I care about our visitor industry. And second of all, it was just so much fun.”
Haines is a popular tourist destination. The leisure and hospitality industry provides the largest number of jobs in the borough. In 2009, the tourism industry supported 20.7 percent of all employment.
“Tourism plays a huge role in our economy,” Hill said. “So often when cruise passengers travel through Southeast, they find they enjoyed themselves so much they show up again as an independent traveler.”
Bordering 20 million acres of protected wilderness and just 15 minutes by air from Glacier Bay National Park, Haines also gives visitors a taste of the “real” Alaska. “I can’t tell you the number of times a passenger has told me, ‘This is the Alaska I wanted to see,'” Hill said.
An Alaska Native of Tlingit ancestry and a lifelong Haines resident, Hill wants to see her community not only survive, but thrive. She said the cruise industry plays an important role in supporting the Haines economy. While timber, commercial fishing and seafood processing were historically Haines’ most important industries, today leisure and hospitality, local government, retail trade and health care are the borough’s dominant industries. Together they provide more than 62 percent of the total wage and salary employment.
“I definitely plan to greet Haines’s cruise passengers next year,” Hill said. “It was such an enjoyable experience for me to meet and interact with these people. I’ve been invited to a lot of really fun-sounding places. Maybe next time I’ll get to be the visitor!”