Diamond Princess’ weekly Inside Passage cruises feature glacier viewing in Tracy Arm.
Princess Cruises will return a fourth ship to its signature Voyage of the Glaciers itinerary for the 2012 summer season. This is big news in a state that has seen its cruise business systematically pared down over the past year and a half.
The decision by Princess to increase its Alaska capacity was prompted, in part, by recent changes to the head tax structure in the state and the more balanced approach to doing business in Alaska, according to the line.
Princess’ President and CEO Alan Buckelew said bringing a fourth ship back to the Gulf of Alaska will have an economic impact from southeast Alaska to Prudhoe Bay. “Because the one-way route lends itself to longer visitor stays, with visits to both the interior and southeast Alaska, we calculate it has twice the potential economic impact of roundtrip cruises,” he explained.
Voyage of the Glacier itinerary is Princess’ most popular Alaska itinerary, taking passengers between Vancouver and Whittier with a visit to Glacier Bay and ports of call in the state’s southeast. Because many passengers on this one-way route usually spend extra time in Alaska’s interior utilizing Princess’ lodges, rail and motorcoaches, this itinerary provides significant tourism benefits to the state and the line.
Details of Princess’ 2012 Alaska deployment will be announced in spring 2011, including which ship will be added to the lineup.
Last month, the Alaska Alliance for Cruise Travel said that the number of cruise ships visiting Alaska fell from 38 last year to 32 this year and is expected to hit 30 next year.
The group, which has lobbied for more investment from the industry in Alaska, said while the cruise market grew by 6.5 percent worldwide this year, it fell in Alaska by 15 percent, translating into about a 14 percent drop from last year’s total of 1,020,708 passengers. The number of passengers was the highest in 2008, at 1,032,274.
The state said it received $138.8 million in revenues from cruise lines in 2009. Lorene Palmer, president and CEO, Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau, said this number does not take into account nonrevenue passengers, such as ocean rangers, guest entertainers, officers’ families and such. She said nonrevenue passengers are estimated to be about 1 percent of the visitors.
“2010 was a challenging year because we started with 150,000 fewer passengers, so businesses had to manage this year in that new environment to keep expenses down. Many didn’t hire new employees or get new equipment,” Palmer said. “Businesses that did okay this summer did so partly because they managed [in] this new environment.”
“We’re hopeful that in 2011 things will get better,” she said. This hope stems from the inclusion of three new cruise ships: Disney Wonder, Crystal Symphony and Oceania Regatta. However, with the loss of two ships, Ryndam and Royal Princess, Palmer noted 2011’s net gain could only be around 14,000 passengers and will not reach the numbers from the last few years.