US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer and Ketchikan Mayor Bob Sivertsen joined community members in Ketchikan today at an event hosted by Cruise Lines International Association as Royal Caribbean International’s Serenade of the Seas became the first large passenger ship back in the state since cruising's suspension.
Serenade of the Seas is operating a simulated voyage carrying volunteers in order to apply for a conditional sailing certificate from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
$3bn a year for economy, pre-pandemic
It has been nearly two years since large cruise ships operated in the state. Pre-pandemic, cruise passengers represented more than 60% of all mainland visitors to Alaska, and the industry’s operations generated more than $3bn a year for the Alaska economy, supporting 23,000 local jobs.
CLIA paid tribute to Murkowski for her leadership in the passage of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, which was instrumental in facilitating the return of cruise tourism in Alaska this summer.
'CLIA and our oceangoing member lines have been hard at work to bring cruise business back to Alaska and to support a vibrant tourism economy, with enhanced health and safety measures. We would not be here today if not for the efforts of Alaska’s elected officials, who moved mountains to ensure that communities throughout Alaska would not go a second summer without cruise tourism,' said Michael McGarry, SVP global government affairs and North American secretariat, CLIA.
'On behalf of our members, we would like to share a special thank you to US Sen. Lisa Murkowski, whose commitment to serving her constituents was pivotal in bringing cruise tourism back to Alaska this summer.'
Murkowski called tourism 'the lifeblood for hundreds of Alaska small businesses and thousands of employees. I’ve been committed to help bring tourism back for the 2021 season and keep Alaskans afloat through the hardships created by the pandemic. It was an all-hands-on-deck effort to find a solution to the 2021 cruise ship season and bring a much-needed economic boost to our communities.'
Murkowski thanked other members of the Alaska delegation for getting the legislation across the finish line.
'Today marks an important step toward Alaska’s road to economic recovery from the pandemic,' she said.
Cruising 'critical to our state livelihood'
'This is the boost Alaska needs for our economy and businesses,' Lt. Gov. Meyer said. 'This industry is critical to our state livelihood. Today’s event is the result of the private sector and federal, state and local governments working together. When we work together, good things happen for Alaska.'
And Ketchikan Mayor Sivertsen compared the ships' return to a late spring: 'As with spring it brings hope, joy and the anticipation of brighter days ahead. Ketchikan is ready for the hustle and bustle of a vibrant economy. We are excited to see our cruise partners back.'
'We are celebrating the much-anticipated return of cruising to Alaska today thanks to the determination and close collaboration of the cruise industry, policymakers and communities that are so reliant on tourism,' said Russell Benford, VP government relations, Americas, Royal Caribbean Group. 'Proud, resourceful Alaskan communities, which have endured almost two seasons without cruising, will once again welcome cruise visitors to this magnificent destination and I’m sure Alaskan business owners look forward to reigniting the tourism economy and providing for their families.'
21 months without cruise ships 'economic disaster'
Patti Mackey, president and CEO of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, said the 21-month absence of cruise ships resulted in 'economic disaster for Ketchikan's visitor industry businesses. The loss of both independent and cruise visitors in 2020 was devastating and only added to the impacts of the pandemic,' she said. 'We all owe Senators Murkowski and [Dan] Sullivan and Congressman [Don] Young our thanks for breaking the logjam that kept ships from sailing and causing further damage to our community.'
Nine large cruise ships expected this season
Nine large cruise ships are currently scheduled to operate in Alaska this year, with 78 sailings to take place through Oct. 21. All must receive approval from, and meet the requirements of, the CDC.
Since cruise operations from US ports were suspended in March 2020, CLIA estimated more than 300,000 American jobs have been impacted or lost, with a corresponding loss of over $39bn in economic activity. Nearly 70% of the industry’s economic contributions in Alaska benefited local small businesses in 2019 — the highest percentage of any state in the country.
Small-ship operations since May
Small US-flag cruise ships that are not subject to the conditional sailing order and fully qualify for coastwise service under the Passenger Vessel Services Act have been operating in Alaska since early May.