Industry Forecasts Strong Tourist Season For Alaska

With a little over a week until the first ship arrives in Juneau, the head of a cruise industry group in Alaska says 2015 should be strong year for tourism in the state.

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Former state lawmaker John Binkley is now president of Cruise Lines International Association Alaska. He told the Juneau Chamber of Commerce today that he anticipates about 1 million passengers this year. That’s up more than 3 percent from 2014.

The Coral Princess Cruise ship prepares to dock in Juneau. Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO - Juneau.
The Coral Princess Cruise ship prepares to dock in Juneau. Photo by Heather Bryant, KTOO – Juneau.

“2015 is going to be a great year. We’re excited about that,” Binkley said. “I think the merchants can see in just, what, two weeks? The ships are going to be pulling in here. People are going to be pouring off with money in their pocket, looking for places and ways to leave it here in Juneau. It’s great news for us.”

But Binkley warned Alaska faces challenges as the cruise industry expands globally. Already, he says the state is losing market share, as newer ships are deployed to ports in Asia and other parts of the world. He also says the state and local governments need to be careful with how they spend cruise ship passenger fees.

He said the industry is concerned about two multi-million dollar projects in Juneau: An extension of the seawalk north of Marine Park, and a long-planned dock expansion to allow more Panamax ships to tie up downtown.

“It would be one thing if the local community were paying for the dock. But they’re not,” Binkley said. “It’s the visitors that are paying for the dock and the cruise companies that are paying for the dock.”

Panamax ships are up to 1,000 feet long and carry thousands of passengers.

University of Alaska Southeast Chancellor John Pugh challenged Binkley, saying the industry is sending mixed signals about how it wants passenger fees to be spent.

“We were told we needed docks for Panamax. We worked on that,” Pugh said. “And so I guess, I’m just sending a message back to you having been a citizen who had some involvement in it. How do we actually talk to the industry? Is it the local people who are here? Is it the people who are in Shanghai?”

Binkley says the cruise lines wanted an entirely new dock built as opposed to an expansion of the existing facilities.

Assemblywoman Mary Becker told Binkley the Juneau Assembly is not considering an increase to the city’s local passenger head tax in response to a proposal by lawmakers to take away Juneau’s share of state passenger fees in 2016.

The first two cruise ships of the year are due in Juneau on Monday May 4.

Casey Kelly is a reporter at KTOO in Juneau.

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