Local companies and Royal Caribbean anticipating busy cruise season

“We are getting more bookings today than we were at this time in 2019…”

Following a recent joint venture between Huna Totem Corp. and Doyon Limited forming the organization Na-Dena’, both Alaska Native organizations and cruise companies are looking forward to a fruitful 2022 cruise season.

Instability abroad is keeping cruise tourism closer to home, said Josh Carroll, a vice president at Royal Caribbean Cruises, during a Tuesday news conference.

“It’s been a hard couple of years in Alaska, especially for the cruise industry,” Carroll said. “We’re looking at 2022 being the biggest and best cruise season we’ve had yet.”

Carroll said Royal Caribbean’s vessels are booked to 100% of allowable occupancy. However, Carroll could not say how many guests that actually equated to, citing the cruise line’s policies.

“We absolutely can and intend to fill the ships this season,” Carroll said. “A lot of it will come down to (mitigation) protocols. The demand is there.”

Filling a ship doesn’t mean the same thing as it did three years ago, Carroll said, in the age of mitigation measure.

“When we say 100% occupancy, that doesn’t mean every single cabin is full,” Carroll said. “There are some cabins that are going to be held back as part of our Healthy Sail program.”

Many companies suffered badly under 2020’s absent cruise season and 2021’s truncated season. Many companies in the Southeast rely on the cruise traffic to sustain their businesses and towns, including transport companies like Alaska Independent Coach Tours, recently acquired as the first major action of Na-Dena’.

“We got started in 2005. We got our start because of Royal Caribbean,” said AICT President Dennis McDonnell during the news conference. “We started in Juneau and have expanded to Ketchikan, Sitka and Skagway.”

Part of the logic behind acquiring AICT was to help enhance the cultural tourism aspects of their work, training AICT staff that will be transporting cruise passengers from the airport to the cruise ship in Seattle and ashore in the Southeast in Alaska Native culture and history, so that staff can pass on accurate and respectful information to visitors, McDonnell said.

“Our guests become your guests. They get off the ship and you transport them to the beautiful places they’re here to see,” Carroll said. “Alaska has really been a shining star for us. Alaska has been a standout for our bookings.”

Carroll said bookings at this time were healthier for Alaska than they were pre-COVID-19.

“We are getting more bookings today than we were at this time in 2019. Our guests are excited to come and experience the new attractions at Icy Straits,” Carroll said. “We want our guests to be serviced by locally owned and operated companies, bringing guests to their home. We’ve been looking for local Alaskan companies to grow and expand their businesses to serve our expansion in the region. This is an example of that.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.