Record number of cruise passengers expected in Skagway this year

Skagway on Aug. 3, 2022. (Claire Stremple/KTOO)

The town of Skagway is preparing for tourists to rush in. With increased docking capacity at the port and a longer season, the municipality is expecting a record number of visitors this year.

The tourism industry in Skagway is on track to recover from its pandemic slump, with 1.2 million cruise passengers expected this year. That’s almost double last year’s numbers, and a 25% increase over the previous record year, 2019.

RELATEDRecord high 1.5M cruise passengers expected in Ketchikan this summer

Renee Limoge-Reeve is vice president of community relations with the Cruise Lines International Association. She sees an increase in passenger numbers throughout the industry.

“We know from our research that intent to cruise is higher than pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “And that’s both among people who have cruised in the past, and people who have never cruised. Intent to cruise is through the roof, I think there is definitely a pent-up demand.”

All these passengers will visit multiple ports, making the boom regionwide. Ketchikan is also expecting a record-setting year.

“The Alaska market remains very very strong,” Limoge-Reeve said. “It’s a bucket-list destination, we know that. When you talk about cruising in the Caribbean, the ship is the destination. In Alaska, Alaska is the destination.”

Jaime Bricker is the town’s tourism director. She says she loves seeing the town come to life.

“It’s”I just had coffee with a friend this morning, and there were a ton of new people walking into the coffee shop, lots of hustle and bustle on Broadway,” she said. “Everybody is moving around and preparing for the season around here.”

The first cruise ship will arrive on April 18, and the last one is scheduled for Oct. 25. This makes for a longer tourism season than in years past. Businesses will have to adapt to that timeline.

“I think there is a varying degree of acceptance in terms of opening earlier and staying open later, there are also other factors that each business has to consider,” Bricker said. “Like whether or not they have enough staff to cater to that early group of people or staff that will stay late into the season. And does it justify them staying open. I think it’s a decision that each business will have to make for themselves, and it will be interesting to see how that unfolds in Skagway.”

Bricker is optimistic staffing needs will be met.

“I have heard great things about the hiring for this year as opposed to the last several years in particular. It is refreshing to hear that people are ready to come back to Skagway and ready to work for the summer,” she said.

Changes on the waterfront also contribute to the increased number of visitors.

“There is a trend within the industry of having the larger ships that can accommodate more passengers, and we’ve got four berths that have been improved to accept some of those larger ships. Right now we are maximizing this infrastructure in the best way possible to maximize the number of people that can come to Skagway. And so all of those things have led to that growth,” she said.

Renee Limoge-Reeves, of the cruise lines association, sums up why so many visitors want to go to Skagway in the first place.

“It’s a gem in Alaska’s jewelry box,” she said. “We know that people go to Skagway, they see a beautiful little town that is extremely welcoming, we have wonderful excursion opportunities there, it’s a historical location, and we are thrilled to go.”

This year a part of the waterfront is returning under the municipality’s control, after a 55-year lease to a private company.  Associated docking fees from now on are paid to the municipality.

To mark the occasion, there will be a ceremony at Skagway’s shoreline park on April 19, the day after the first docking, at 5 p.m.

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