Cruisers rebound to pre-recession peak of 1M visitors

Cruise passengers drive Alaska’s tourism industry, and this past summer more came to the state than had in several years.

More than 1 million cruisers visited the state in 2013, said John Binkley, executive director of the Cruise Lines International Association of Alaska (formerly the Alaska Cruise Association).

The last time more than 1 million cruise passengers toured Alaska was 2009 with approximately 1.02 million cruisers. In 2010 that number dropped to 878,000 and it has been slowly rebounding since.

The downturn in marine travel has been attributed to the national recession and a since-repealed increase in state passenger taxes on the industry.

Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Nancy Woizeschke said its likely that just less than 1 million cruisers passed through Juneau this year. Juneau is the most visited city in Alaska according to reports compiled by the McDowell Group, with about 68 percent of tourists visiting the capital city.

Woizeschke said she hopes Southeast can capitalize on the uncharacteristically warm and sunny weather many of the region’s visitors experienced this summer through return visits.

“When the weather’s good in Juneau it is one of the most beautiful places on Earth,” she said earlier this year.

2. Carnival, EPA reach emissions deal

Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise company, announced in September that it had reached an agreement with U.S. and Canadian agencies to invest $180 million in emission-reducing technology on 32 of its ships to comply with international Emission Control Area standards.

ECA standards, passed in 2010, require ships operating within 200 miles of the U.S. or Canadian coasts to burn fuel containing less than 0.1 percent sulfur by 2015.

Per the agreement, Carnival Cruise Lines has until mid-2016 to add “sulfur scrubbers” to its ships’ exhaust systems rather than burn the more expensive ultra low-sulfur fuel.

Alaska cruise industry representatives have said ECA standards would increase ship operating costs by up to $150 per passenger and drive potential customers to destinations without the added expense.

The Environmental Protection Agency projects the tighter emissions standards will reduce sulfur emissions by 920,000 tons before 2020.

3. Anchorage explores Winter Olympics bid once more

Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan announced in June that he intended to form an exploratory committee to see if the city should make a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Visit Anchorage President and CEO Julie Saupe said in August that past winter sporting events, like the 2010 U.S. Cross Country Skiing Championships, have provided a boost to winter tourism.

The Olympics would likely dwarf anything the city has put on to date, however.

Bidding for the games is something the city is familiar with. Anchorage lost the 2002 Winter Olympics’ bid domestically to Salt Lake City by one vote on the United States Olympic Committee in 1995. Later, it was discovered that Salt Lake City officials had bribed their way to winning. Anchorage won the American bid for the 1992 and 1994 games, but lost to Albertville, France, and Lillehammer, Norway, respectively, when it made its pitch to the International Olympic Committee.

The mayor’s committee was tasked with figuring out whether a bid is feasible, Anchorage Economic Development Corp. Vice President and committee member Jon Bittner said.

Anchorage had about 3,500 hotel rooms in the 1980s when it made its first bids. According to Saupe, that number has grown to about 8,600 now.

The Winter Olympics includes 15 sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, bobsleigh, cross country skiing, curling, figure skating, freestyle skiing, hockey, luge, nordic combined, short track speed skating, skeleton, ski jumping, snowboard, and speed skating.

U.S. Ski Team manager Joey Caterinichio, another member of Sullivan’s committee, said Anchorage has excellent skiing infrastructure at Kincaid Park and Alyeska Resort.

For the other sports, however, much work would be needed.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

02/19/2014 - 2:55am