Unprecedented cruise ship cancellations affect seasonal, year round businesses | KHNS Radio
The loss of roughly 80 percent of Alaska’s cruise tourism will have an outsize impact in Skagway and Haines, whose seasonal businesses will be operating at a small fraction of capacity, if at all.
“It’s a significant blow. To be honest, it wasn’t necessarily a shock as much as it was a disappointment,” said Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata.
“You know what we are always planning for the worst case scenario. And it’s a good thing because repeatedly, we are met with the worst case scenario!”
Carnival Corporation will not be sending any ships to Alaska this year. The Corporation’s holdings include Holland America and Princess Cruises. He said the municipality saw this coming.
There’s hope for a windfall of federal money soon. Governor Mike Dunleavy divided up the $1.5 billion in CARES Act dollars to disperse among communities. Skagway stands to receive in the range of 7 million dollars. Haines could get around 4 million. But Cremata said he’s not ready to talk about what the municipality’s distribution plan is until the money’s in the bank.
White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad—Skagway’s premier tour and number one employer—is waiting to announce any next moves. Public Relations Director Jaime Bricker said whether or not trains run at all this summer is dependent on what the cruise companies are able to do. She’s hoping to salvage what’s left of the cruise season.
“But we also realize that that that doesn’t look especially promising, given the recent announcements,” she said.
Bricker said the company is focusing on maintenance and keeping as many people employed as possible.
Haines doesn’t have half the port calls that Skagway does. Yet tour companies and year round businesses still benefit from the cruise passengers that take the cross-fjord Fast Ferry from Skagway to Haines.
“Imagine 12 months of no income,” said Tourism Advisory Board Chair Andrew Hedden. He said there’s cautious optimism in the industry, but it’s waning.
“You know, whatever level of income you’re used to, that’s how much is this year really going to evaporate at the rate we’re going completely. I don’t know if it will put anybody out of business, but it’s going to certainly drive people to either not open at all or take loans to survive or take other jobs or something of that nature. I imagine everybody’s giving serious second thoughts to whether they will be able to operate at all.”
Hedden’s own rafting company will only operate this summer if it’s legal and safe.
It’s not just tour companies. Summer guests also spend money on Main Street. Mary Jane Sebens runs a downtown market, cafe, and liquor store. She’s open all year in Haines, but does twice as much business in the summer months.
“We do catering in the summer for tour groups to companies that, you know, get people off the cruise ship. And we would be starting that right now and we’re not,” she said.
Sebens said they don’t rely on foot traffic from cruise ships, but they certainly appreciate the sales bump. Cruise passengers don’t grocery shop, but often stop for lattes and then pick up a bag of coffee beans, sandwiches, or a logo mug.
“I don’t know that we’ll be flourishing this year, but hopefully, we’ll still be here. I think we’re fine for awhile, but and I’m grateful we have a pretty good cash cushion. But that’s dwindling,” Sebens said.
The cruise season is not entirely forfeit. Norwegian Cruise Lines expressed its intent to resume sailings in conversation with Skagway leadership this week, according to the Mayor. He said what that might look like is still under discussion, with the health and safety of the community first.
“Some of those actions are nebulous and I don’t exactly know how it’s all going to pan out. We’re all novices when it comes to handling pandemics. We’re doing the best we can,” he said.
Cremata, like most in Skagway, is directly affected, too. In a normal year, he would have been selling tours on Skagway’s waterfront by now.