The last cruise ship of this year’s summer tourism season is plying Southeast Alaska waters this week, closing out a year that tourism officials estimate brought slightly under 1.3 million visitors.

According to research by the McDowell group, Alaska received more than 1.1 million cruise visitors last year.

The Norwegian Jewel visited Juneau Wednesday afternoon for a eight-hour stop, and it has a final port of call Saturday in Ketchikan.

The ship’s journey closes out a summer marked by long stretches of warm temperatures, wildfire smoke and even high pollen counts that created their own haze.

In Juneau, Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau, estimates another 80,000 visitors arrived by plane or on the Alaska Marine Highway System ferries. 

“It’s bittersweet because it has been a tremendous season,” Perry said, adding the work hardly ends with the last cruise ship.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association will holds its annual conference in Juneau next week and begin discussing next year’s agenda.

“It’s a chance for us to sit back, take stock, really debrief and figure out what went right, what we want to improve upon and look forward to the next season,” Perry said.

Sarah Leonard, ATIA’s president and chief executive said she will announce some preliminary visitors numbers next week.

Detailed visitor research normally gets released in the first quarter of the following year and is often presented to the state Legislature.

Leonard said each travel season has its own signature and 2019 was no different.

“Every season and every destination kind of experiences either outliers or things that help boost your numbers,” she said. “There was a factor of having a good summer but we also experience — in some parts of the state — wildfires, and that can impact experiences.

“I think what helps Alaska overall year after year is that we are a safe year-round destination. We are perceived as exotic and a once-in-a-lifetime trip for visitors. I think Alaska continues to hold that mystique for visitors, and so I think that always helps in attracting and welcoming guests to Alaska.”

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