Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, left, and Bill Thomas meet with Fred Vreeman, owner of Yukon Cruise & Tours, Alaska Grizzly Lodge, during a visit Tuesday to Interior Alaska in which he talked to business owners about how they are handling tourism in the pandemic. 

Hospitality businesses in Fairbanks and the Interior are better off than in Alaska’s port cities since the cruise industry shutdown, because many cater to summer travelers who fly to Fairbanks International Airport.

“They have diversified and are not tied 100% to cruise ships,” Alaska Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer told reporters Wednesday after visiting with area tourism operators.

He cautioned that some hospitality businesses in Denali Borough are more “heavily dependent” on cruise ship travelers. He noted that the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, run by Princess Cruises, is closed.

The lieutenant governor is on a listening tour in Alaska, meeting with small and medium-sized businesses that support tourism. He is asking about their struggles since the CDC idled the cruise line industry in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska Legislature are working on a relief package that includes assistance to hospitality businesses that incurred losses from the cruise line shutdown that may extend through 2021.

Meyer told reporters Wednesday that he has had meetings in Fairbanks and Healy this week. He said that tourism operators in Fairbanks and the Interior report they “are not in as bad shape as they are in the southeast.” 

“What we heard is that they are probably going to be OK,” said Meyer, who was accompanied by Bill Thomas, an aide to the governor and former Haines state representative.

“Certainly, their revenue and business are not to 2019 levels” before the pandemic, Meyer said.

Tourism operators said they are seeing an increase in bookings from 2020 when the Covid-19 emergency was declared, he said. 

Meyer also heard about an area shortage of rental vehicles and challenges in finding seasonal labor.

Meyer said he heard that people are extending unemployment benefits rather than returning to seasonal jobs in the hospitality industry. 

“There is not the incentive for some folks to leave their benefits to work in the tourism business,” he said. Businesses are “going to have to pay more to get help.” 

 

Denali Borough 'dependent' on cruises

Meyer noted that some businesses in the Denali Borough are more “heavily dependent on cruise ship business.”

He said that the governor, with the Legislature, is preparing a relief package that will aid struggling businesses that support the tourism industry.

The governor is launching a marketing campaign to encourage travelers in the U.S. and abroad to visit Alaska.

Meyer said that the state has “not given up hope” to salvage a summer cruise ship season in 2021, but “it is not looking good.”

The goal is to keep Alaska’s tourism businesses “alive and viable until May of 2022 when cruise ships come again,” he said.

Meyer said that the idea is to provide grants to small businesses through the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. The money would come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. 

Alaska’s businesses would need to apply and qualify for assistance.

Dunleavy’s office and the Alaska Legislature are deciding how to spend more than $1 billion in relief funding as a direct result of losses incurred due to the pandemic.

 

For more information 

Meyer is continuing to accept comments via email to: ltgov.listens@alaska.gov.

There also is a web page, ltgov.alaska.gov/ltgovlistens.

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