The cruise lines operating in Alaska will draw more than 175,000 passengers in 1989 and generate more than $50 million of revenue, accounting for more than 16 percent of the state's total summer tourism revenue. The outlook promises continued growth.
While Alaska continues to rank third as an operating area for cruise ships, behind the Caribbean and the Mediterranean, passenger counts in 1988 were down compared to 1987, but still follows a general growth trend since the early 1980s.
(In 1988, Alaska commanded about seven percent of the cruise market, compared to more than 42 percent for the Caribbean, and 7.4 percent for the Mediterranean, excluding one- and two-day cruises, according to industry statistics.)
Despite the effects of this year's oil spill in Prince William Sound on the immediate environment, the Alaska cruise market promises continued growth this year and next, according to authorities at Alaska's major ports and representatives from cruise lines calling in Alaska and cruise line associations.
Although there is a general trend in 1989 of fewer calls than last year at most Alaskan ports, several of the cruise lines have increased their passenger capacity. Regency Cruises added a second vessel this year and therefore increased its number of berths this year by 595. Last year, Regency had the 950-passenger Regent Star in Alaskan waters, whereas this year, the line has both the Regent Sea and the Regent Sun in Alaska, with capacities of 715 and 830 respectively. In addition, Princess Cruises replaced the 1,200 passenger Royal Princess this year with the Star Princess, gaining 400 berths.
According to a spokesperson for the Cruise Lines International Association, several lines have opted to test the Mediterranean with their smaller vessels this season, including Princess, which therefore deployed a larger ship in Alaska.
Because of the increased size of vessels plying the Alaskan waterways, some ports such as Ketchikan are in the midst of soliciting funds to increase one of its three berths by 265 feet. Ketchikan is also in the planning stages of building the Southeast Alaska Visitor's Center at the harbor which would feature a museum, hotel, restaurant, and shops.
Others, including Sitka and Juneau felt that their facilities are sufficient. Although Sitka does not have any docking facilities, it has seven anchorages for cruise ships. Cathie Henderson, agent for Sitka's harbor, felt that tendering ashore is an adventure for most passengers and therefore building cruise ship berths were not in their immediate plans.
According to Joseph Graham, Juneau's Harbor Master, traffic is heavy with their existing two berths. Although the possibility of adding another berth is being discussed, Graham felt that this would add to the already difficult traffic problem caused by cruise ships and smaller vessels.
Vancouver, on the other hand, has solved its traffic flow with two different facilities. The four piers at Canada Place and two piers at Ballantyne handled 324,261 passengers in 1988 and Jacqueline Kirby of the Vancouver Port Corporation estimated an increase for 1989, since Vancouver is the embarkation and turn-around port for most of the Alaska-bound vessels.
Although there are eight cruise lines sailing in Alaska this season, the market is dominated by Holland America Line and Princess. As Graham voiced, "Holland America and Princess are our best customers, due to their aggressive marketing." Princess has five vessels sailing in Alaska and HAL has four. The two lines have a capacity of 50,800 and 72,000 passengers respectively for the 1989 season, thus accounting for 70 percent of the market. Both lines also have land tour companies in the state and were pioneers of land tours and cruises in Alaska. Graham estimated their load factors to be approximately 98 percent.
HAL was one of the lines that had scheduled a vessel, the 1,114-passenger Rotterdam, to cruise Prince William Sound this season. According to a spokesperson for HAL, only seven percent of the Sound was affected by the spill, and therefore there were no itinerary changes. Although Alaska bookings were slower than usual right after the accident, they have since rebounded. Sources at HAL said they will not know the full effect of the spill on their sales until the end of the year when all statistics are tabulated.
John Benson, Vice President of Sales at Regency Cruises, agreed that, "Bookings were a bit slow when media coverage of the incident was at its height." He felt that they might have sold out their cruises earlier if the accident had not occurred, but Benson stated that present load factors are in the high 90 percentile.
Even prior to the oil spill in Prince William Sound, certain areas of untouched Alaska had restrictions on the number of cruise ships allowed, due to environmental concerns. Glacier Bay, in particular, only allows two cruise ships a day to enter its waters from June 1 - August 31. This protects the humpback whales which feed there during that time.
While Vancouver dominates as embarkation and turn-around port, Seattle and San Francisco are both seeking to attract ships to homeport. There is much at stake since approximately $75 million was pumped into the British Columbian economy by the Alaskan cruise industry last year. This figure, which is expected to rise, includes hotels, suppliers, fuel and shoremen.
While San Francisco was the homeport for Princess Cruises' 12-day Alaska trips this year, the line will be homeporting the Star Princess in Vancouver in 1990, according to Colin Reay, General Manager for the Cruise Industry Association of British Columbia.
The port of Seattle, on the other hand, is in the midst of lobbying to get a proviso to the Jones Act which restricts foreign-flagged vessels from homeporting and calling only in the United States. Last year 23,342 passengers arrived and departed from Seattle versus Vancouver's 324,261. At present, the only cruise ships calling at the port are vessels repositioning from Alaska to the Mexican Riviera or the Caribbean.
Many of the lines felt future trends in the Alaska cruise industry include further exploration north into the Gulf of Alaska. This area of pristine beauty includes the Cook Islands and is already regularly frequented by several lines, including HAL and Princess Cruises.
In addition, Seattle-based Alaska Sight Seeing Tours/Travalaska announced that their 1989 tours "Alaska A La Carte" have been successful and will thus become a major part of their 1990 program. This offering allows agents to book land-only tours independently of the clients' choice of cruise ships.
There may also be room for different cruise products, as evidenced by Windstar Sail Cruises' recent announcement to operate one of its vessels in Alaska next season.