News-Miner opinion: Alaska’s tourism industry appears to be facing what could be another tough year, what with the Covid-19 pandemic, travel restrictions and the Centers for Disease Control’s cruise restrictions that have left the more than $4 billion industry scrambling.
To attack the problems, Gov. Mike Dunleavy says Alaska will conduct a national advertising campaign in support of the tourism industry this summer because losing the cruise season likely would cost the state $3 billion and be felt in every corner.
“We are going to embark on an advertising campaign nationally like we have never seen,” he said, “because we have never experienced a year like this.”
Dunleavy says the campaign’s details and funding will be worked out in coming days.
What are the problems facing the industry this season?
The Covid-19 pandemic and the Centers for Disease Control’s stringent, 40-page Conditional Sailing Order put into place Oct. 30 are front and center. The order requires vessel owners to follow dozens of requirements that include holding simulated voyages and installing virus-testing labs aboard their vessels.
Add to that a U.S. law, the Jones Act, requiring foreign-flagged cruise ships to stop in a foreign port while sailing between two U.S ports. Many cruise vessels routinely have stopped in British Columbia on their way to Alaska, but Canada has banned cruise ships in Canadian waters until February 2022.
Then, there are Canada’s often-iffy rules determining who can travel through Canada to get to Alaska.
Unless things change, Southeast Alaska communities still struggling from last year’s crippled cruise season will be hammered hard. But they will not be alone.
More than half of all Alaska’s visitors arrive aboard a cruise ship. In 2018, there were 1,169,000 aboard cruise ships, 760,100 arrived by airplane and 97,200 got here via highways or ferries. They stayed in hotels, bed and breakfasts, and lodges. They camped, rented cars, hired fishing guides, bought food and paid for laundry services, airline tickets, gifts, equipment and much, much more.
Endangering the tourism industry — which provides one in 10 jobs in Alaska — is a big thing in every nook and cranny of the state. Our economy is languishing in the doldrums and another year of reduced tourism, which affects every sector of the state, will not help.
Alaska is a safe place to visit, Dunleavy says. Its high vaccination rate and success in battling the virus are all positive indicators the state can handle the influx of visitors. The governor already is pushing President Joe Biden and Congress to loosen restrictions and breathe life back into our sputtering visitor industry.
His plan to launch a national advertising campaign is another piece in a complicated puzzle — and is better than good news.