Alaska 2012

 

Rail excursion in Skagway
Cutting tax on ship passengers could help boost cruise tour bookings, such as this rail excursion in Skagway.

 

In the wake of a partial rollback of a head tax on cruise passengers, cruise lines are upping capacity in Alaska, leading to a rosier tourism outlook for the entire region.

“In our peak years, 2007-2008, we had about one million 30 thousand cruise visitors,” Ron Peck, president and COO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, told Travel Agent during an interview regarding what’s ahead for the state. “After the Cruise Ballot Initiative passed, it reduced cruise passengers because cruise lines reallocated their ships to other markets.”

All that started to change, however, in 2010 when Alaskan lawmakers approved a plan to cut the head tax on cruise ship passengers. Now lines are increasing capacity in the state.

Princess Cruises is bringing another ship back to Alaska, which could result in 40,000 to 45,000 additional customers, Peck said. The line’s land and sea vacations feature Princess Rail, Princess-owned wilderness lodges, and visits to Glacier Bay and Denali national parks.

Norwegian Cruise Line is returning Norwegian Pearl to Alaskan waters for 2012, where it will sail along with the Norwegian Jewel, making this season the first time the line will field two Jewel-class ships in the region. The two ships will sail itineraries between Vancouver and Seattle with ports of call including Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway and Victoria.

With the rise in popularity of cruise tours that combine land and sea vacations, the arrival of the additional ships can have a ripple effect across the entire Alaska tourism industry. More ships can translate into more cruise tours, which is good for land- and sea-based tourism businesses alike.

“Princess’ vessel that they’re bringing has three Gulf crossings, and that’s where a dramatic amount of cruise tours occur, between Vancouver and Whittier,” Peck said. “The ship that’s returning gives us opportunities to sell land tours…I think you’re going to continue to see companies offering experiential opportunities—ziplines, rafting trips, sightseeing and also, additional focus by cruise lines providing family-focused or multigenerational experiences.”

To help agents sell Alaska, ATIA offers the Alaska Certified Expert (ACE) program. This free educational course is divided into four modules, each of which takes approximately two hours to complete. Agents who complete the course will learn tips on packaging and selling Alaska, receive a certificate of completion and a listing on www.travelalaska.com as an Alaska specialist.

ATIA also helps agents gather firsthand experience of the state by sponsoring several fam trips throughout the year featuring different communities, businesses and seasons. Agents can access information on the ATIA website by clicking on the “Travel Trade” link and then on “Fam Trips.”

 

Agent Advice

Don Anderson, CEO and founder of The Cruise Store in East Longmeadow, MA, advises agents booking a land and sea itinerary to start in the north and head south.

“I encourage the staff for the land vacations to try to promote the southbound trips, the ones that start in Alaska and end in Vancouver,” Anderson said. “I want people to do the land vacation first and cruise second…because if you miss a portion of the land vacation you can catch up, but if you miss the ship, because of new legislation after 9/11, it’s a lot harder to get on cruise ships after the start point.”

 

Getting There

Many southbound cruises now depart from Whittier, Alaska. Travelers to Whittier can fly into Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC), where they can drive by rental car or take the Alaska Railroad. A note on driving: Whittier is separated from Alaska’s road system by the Whittier Tunnel, which is shared by one-way alternating auto and railroad traffic, so clients planning to travel by car may need to allow for additional time and expense.

Other major Alaska gateways include Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) or Juneau International Airport (JNU). Clients embarking on a northbound cruise can fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) or Vancouver International Airport (YVR).