In a second week of “firsts” as the cruise industry restarts operations across the globe, Royal Caribbean’ International’s Serenade of the Seas became the first large cruise ship to return to Alaska following suspension of cruise operations in 2020.
Prior to the pandemic, cruise passengers represented 60 percent of all mainland U.S. visitors to Alaska and cruise operations generated $3 billion annually in economic benefit to the Alaska economy and supported 23,000 Alaska jobs.
On Friday, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Kevin Meyer and Ketchikan’s mayor, Bob Sivertsen, joined community members in Ketchikan to celebrate the ship’s return—and the cruise industry’s return to Alaska.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) hosted the event in Ketchikan. Also attending were Patti Mackey, president and CEO of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, and Russell Benford, vice president, government relations, Americas, Royal Caribbean Group.
Since Canada is banning all cruise ships from its ports this year, a significant legislative effort by local, state and national government leaders, cruise/travel industry officials and destination leaders resulted in U.S. Congressional passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, which was then signed into law by President Joe Biden.
That legislation provided a temporary exception to U.S. law so foreign-flagged ships could sail between U.S. ports (such as Seattle, WA, and Ketchikan or other Alaska ports) without a foreign port call.
“We would not be here today if not for the effort of Alaska’s elected officials, who moved mountains to ensure that communities throughout Alaska would not go a second summer without cruise tourism,” said Michael McGarry, senior vice president, global government affairs and North American secretariat, CLIA. He thanked U.S. Senator Murkowski for her leadership efforts in passage of the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act.
“Tourism is the lifeblood for hundreds of small Alaska businesses and thousands of employees,” said Senator Murkowski, who credited the Congressional delegation as well as others. “It was an ‘all-hands-on-deck effort’ to find a solution to the 2021 cruise season and bring a much-needed economic boost to our communities.”
Nine large cruise ships are currently slated to operate in Alaska this year, with 78 sailings planned through October 21, 2021. All must meet the requirements of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Since cruise operations were suspended from U.S. ports in March 2020, it’s estimated that 300,000 American jobs have been impacted or lost, with a corresponding loss of more than $39 billion in economic activity. Nearly 70 percent of the cruise industry’s economic contributions in Alaska benefitted local, small businesses in 2019—that’s the highest for any state in the country.
“The loss of both independent and cruise visitors in 2020 was devastating and only added to the impacts of the pandemic,” said Mackey, who called the return of Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas and the promise of additional ships sailing in Alaska this season as “welcome news.”
Having the ships’ return—although later than normal in the Alaska season, which usually starts in May—“is like a late spring,” said Sivertsen.
Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor Meyer put it succinctly: “The cruise ships are back and we look forward to many more to come.”
For more information, visit www.cruising.org.