CWT Survey: Alaska Sales Gain Ground Versus Caribbean

The cruise industry of late seems obsessed with Caribbean versus Mediterranean capacity—just see what my colleague David Eisen pegged as the "biggest" cruise news of last year. Amid all this talk that virtually ignored other cruise destinations, I was pleased to see Alaska cruising make some headway. Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus at Dawes Glacier in Alaska

For the first time ever, Carlson Wagonlit's annual Travel Trends Survey showed Alaska as the top cruise destination, "beating out its Caribbean competitors" in bookings for the new year, said Roger Block, executive vice president of CWT's associate division. A record 555 Carlson Wagonlit owners, managers and agents were polled for the survey.

There is a slight caveat to this good news for Alaska. For the survey, CWT divided the Caribbean into three regions—western, eastern and southern. Add those broken-out bookings together and the sum is larger than Alaska: just over 42 percent to Alaska's 28.5 percent.

Still, "by triangulating the Caribbean, we're able to see a rise in Alaska bookings," says Steve Loucks, a spokesperson for CWT.

"Caribbean bookings have dropped, but people are still opting to go to the Caribbean," he adds.

Reasons for increased interest in Alaska are two-fold, according to Loucks: part something new, part not needing something blue—namely, a passport (though U.S. passports are necessary for cruises that depart from Canada). Whatever the reasons, it's a pretty impressive showing for Alaska since it's a seasonal destination and many more ships are based in the Caribbean.

CruiseWest, a small-ship line concentrated in Alaska, tells us that over the last two years, interest in cruising Alaska has steadily increased—by as much as 90 percent.

"First-timers tend to want to visit the classic towns of Juneau, Sitka, Skagway and Ketchikan," says Jerrol Golden, a CruiseWest spokesperson. "Three of our five itineraries that cruise the Inside Passage also include the [indigenous] Tsimshian community Metlakatla and the fishing village of Petersburg, and these ports typically rate as our guests' favorite because they are more authentic and receive less visitors."

For a round-up of Cruise West's and other lines' Alaska cruise itineraries for the 2008 season.

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The dual-island nation expects to reopen its borders in October, although no date was given and it's uncertain whether Americans can visit.