Cruise company offers $10 million in ‘humanitarian relief’ to Alaska port towns

A board walk with some empty stalls nearby
A row of booths used by waterfront vendors during the summer tourist season sit empty on March 21, 2020, in Juneau. They’re likely to stay empty for summer 2021, too. (Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings announced Tuesday that it’s donating $10 million across six Alaska port towns: Ketchikan, Juneau, Hoonah, Sitka, Skagway and Seward. 

In a written announcement, the company said it’s making the donation offers directly to each port community to provide humanitarian relief from the ongoing cruise suspension. 

“My heart breaks for Alaska and its wonderful people as we face a potential second year of zero cruise operations during the all-important summer tourism season, bringing yet another blow to Alaska’s tourism economy,” CEO Frank Del Rio said in the statement. “Alaska is one of our guests’ most popular cruise destinations and we are doing everything in our power to safely resume operations in the U.S. which will provide much needed relief to the families, communities and small businesses who rely on cruise tourism for their livelihoods.”

The announcement didn’t include specific dollar figures for each community, and a company representative could not immediately be reached for comment. 

But the Sitka Assembly took action last week to accept an offer for $1 million. And Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt said the capital city will be offered $2 million. 

“I’m just taking it as a, just sincere good faith effort to try to be helpful,” Watt said. “You know, I think it gets really good symbolic value for them, as well.” 

Watt said NCL officials began discussing the donations with him in the fall, well before news broke that some locals were trying to limit cruise ship traffic in Juneau through ballot initiatives. 

Watt said there are no strings attached, but the Juneau Assembly will have the final say on accepting the money.

The cruise industry as a whole has been mostly unable to sail during the pandemic. But pandemic aside, NCL has been making big infrastructure investments in Southeast Alaska, including in HoonahKetchikan and Juneau

“You know, they’re definitely taking the long view. They’re trying to develop a system,” Watt said.  

The holding company operates Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 

The company said it is working through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s process to resume cruises by July 4. It said mandatory vaccinations of all guests and crew are the cornerstone of its plan. 

Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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