Retrospective

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state is “contemplating a lawsuit,” if the U.S. Centers for Disease Control fails to act soon to ease sailing restrictions and allow for a summer cruise season in Alaska. Dunleavy addressed the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce during a lunchtime speech Tuesday, April 13.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Friday that the state will launch a national advertising campaign to encourage summer tourism after economic losses from COVID-19, with details of the major promotion to be revealed next week. 

“We are going to embark on an advertising campaign nationally like we have never seen,” Dunleavy said, “because we have never experienced a year like this.”

The governor’s announcement on the ad campaign, targeted to bolster tourism this summer, was part of a press conference where the governor pledged relief for the state’s businesses and detailed efforts to rescue the 2021 cruise ship season, which runs from May to October.

“We are going to embark on an advertising campaign nationally like we have never seen,” Dunleavy said, “because we have never experienced a year like this.”

He said the state will launch a promotional campaign that delivers the message: “There is a safe place to go to, a place with wide-open spaces, a place you’ve only dreamed about going to ... ”

“You will be going to a place where the vaccination rates are the highest in the nation, where the people are safe and where you’ll be safe if you come here.”

The state also is finalizing a plan to provide business relief for the tourism and hospitality industries, as well as ancillary businesses that benefit from tourism, Dunleavy said. Details will be announced next week. 

“We want to hear what it is we need to be looking at,” said Dunleavy, noting that Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is interviewing and listening to business owners, as “we put this package together.”  

“What is it and how can we inform this approach to assist?” Dunleavy said. “It will be an approach that works.”

Dunleavy said that his office is working to reinvigorate summer tourism in Alaska, while highlighting for federal officials and the White House Alaska’s protocols and achievements keeping residents, businesses and visitors safe. Dunleavy said he is encouraging the CDC to ease restrictions that would allow for big cruise ships to sail in 2021 to Alaska. He said the agency’s restrictions on Alaska “need to make sense for this state.”

“I am asking the CDC to give Alaska due consideration now,” Dunleavy said.

“We’re trying to work with the CDC. We are trying to figure out: How do we get a cruise ship season here? Our ferries — we have our own ships — are back up at 75% and headed toward 100%,” without experiencing problems.

Prior to the pandemic, the Cruise Line Industry Association reported that passenger cruise ships visiting the region in 2019 carried 1.36 million passengers on 577 Alaska voyages, according to the governor’s office.

“The message we want to send to the world and to officials making decisions impacting Alaska is that we are leading the nation in the vaccination rollout,” he said. 

“We have done a really good job in the past year mitigating the virus and doing everything we were asked to do — distance, restrict businesses at times ... And we’re paying a heavy price for it in the state.”

Dunleavy sent a report to the White House detailing the economic fallout from cruise ship cancellations to Alaska in 2020 and 2021. 

The governor estimated a “$3 billion gross state product loss each year the cruise season does not take place.”

At Friday’s press conference, Dunleavy noted that unlike other states with year-round tourism, Alaska’s summer hospitality season is a significant economic driver. 

He said the cruise ship industry, along with the state’s hospitality sector, needs answers now.

“Alaskans who depend on the summer tourism season to make a living waited anxiously with hopes that the COVID-19 vaccines would allow the return to normal, and for cruise ships to enter our ports again,” Dunleavy wrote in a letter to Jeff Zients, counselor to President Biden.

The CDC’s decision to continue a conditional sail order — which blocks cruise ships from traveling to U.S. ports — “eliminates any potential for a 2021 cruise ship sailing season, and places the future of thousands of Alaskan family businesses in peril,” Dunleavy wrote.

Department of Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney described the cruise ship sector as “crucial to the state’s financial well-being.”

“The severe economic losses that are impacting our port and cruise communities has a multiplier impact that trickles throughout our entire economy, resulting in lost revenues, taxes, jobs and small business closures,” Mahoney said.

Contact political reporter Linda F. Hersey at 459-7575 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMpolitics.