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Juneau welcomes first cruise ships, readies for expected record-breaking tourist season

By Liz Raines Photojournalist: Cale Green - 9:45 PM May 1, 2017

The first two cruise ships of the season arrived in Juneau Monday, marking the start of what’s expected to be a record-breaking season.

About 1,055,000 passengers are expected to reach the capital city’s shores over the next 150 days, according to the Juneau Economic Development Council.

“We haven’t seen this many cruise ship passengers since 2008,” said Brian Holst, Executive Director of the Council. “That helps our businesses, that helps our local community with sales tax, it has incredible job impacts as well.”

Holst estimates each passenger will spend around $175 a day, for a total of $180 million in spending this season. For local tour groups, it means getting creative to compete for the new dollars.

“I’ll find something to pick you out and call, make somebody laugh, whatever to get you over to me, and not them,” said Dallas Ross, who sells tours in a booth alongside competing companies.

For many passengers it’s the scenery and wildlife that make Juneau a must-see destination.

“I think most times, when you go on cruise ships you end up going to warm places, beaches and stuff like that, where is this, there’s a heck of a lot more to see,” said Ian Millen, of England, the first passenger to step foot off of Holland America’s “Amsterdam”, with his wife and friends Monday.

Each ship brings in over a million dollars a day, but Alaska could be making a lot more.

“Alaska represents 4 percent of the cruise passenger market, and while that passenger market is growing, there are other parts of the world where it’s growing more quickly,” Holst explained.

In 2014 the state spent $16 million marketing itself, but that budget has been cut to just over $1 million.

“If we want to stay competitive and we want to keep people coming to Alaska, then we also need to do our marketing as well,” said Holst. “The industry does a great job of  marketing, the state’s doing what it can, but it’d be great to get our fiscal situation back in order, so that we can continue to make those important investments which has an impact throughout the entire state.”

While Southeast is preparing for another busy visitor season, tourism operators in the rest of Alaska, are hopeful the rising tide of cruise traffic, reaches them as well.

According to Holst, about 40 percent of the passengers that arrive in Juneau will make their way up to Southcentral Alaska, and about twenty percent of them will reach Fairbanks.

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