Dunleavy announces tourism aid initiative

Dunleavy said 1.3 million tourists were expected to come to Alaska via cruise ship before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down operations.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy last Friday unveiled an initiative aimed at helping to save the 2021 tourism season.

That initiative includes launching a nationwide marketing campaign encouraging Alaska tourism, awarding grants funded by COVID money to tourism businesses, being ready to take legal action against the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention if the agency does not lift the conditional sailing order, and signing Senate Joint Resolution 9, which urges the U.S. Congress to exempt cruise ships from the Passenger Vessel Services Act while Canadian ports are closed to cruise ships carrying more than 100 people.

Dunleavy, who announced the initiative during a press conference held at Wings Airways Hanger in Juneau, was joined by state lawmakers and Juneau business owners, including Sen. Peter Micciche, who represents the upper Kenai Peninsula and co-sponsored S.J.R. 9.

The state has been particularly concerned about a restriction implemented by Canada, which lasts until February 2022 and bans cruise ships with more than 100 people from sailing through Canadian waters. The Passenger Vessel Services Act requires foreign owned and crewed passenger boats sailing from ports in the United States to visit a foreign port before returning to a port in the U.S.

“An exemption of cruise ships from the requirement of visiting a foreign port would help mitigate continued job and revenue loss and provide relief to an industry with an economic impact that spans across every region of the state and employs people from Ketchikan to Nome,” reads the language of S.B. 9.

In a press release, Dunleavy said 1.3 million tourists were expected to come to Alaska via cruise ship before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down operations. That, he said, resulted in a total economic loss of $6 billion, with 2,180 businesses at direct risk from the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

According to S.J.R. 9, over 2.26 million people traveled to Alaska in 2019, including more than 1.3 million who visited via cruise ship and accounted for more than 90% of visitors in the Southeast. In municipal and state revenue, tourism brings in more than $214 million each year, while more than $1.4 billion is generated in payroll and $2.2 billion is generated in visitor spending.

“We’ve done a really good job over the past year in mitigating this virus and doing everything we were asked to do … and we’re paying a heavy price for it,” Dunleavy said.

Dunleavy said he expects to unveil more details about the initiative next week. Dunleavy’s full press conference can be viewed on his Facebook page.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.