July 4, 2011 in Region

Cruises destined for Alaska drop in ’11

Jessie Van Berkel Seattle Times
 

SEATTLE – Thousands of Alaska-bound tourists will depart from Seattle this week, heading north to relax, watch whales and hike glaciers as the cruise season picks up steam.

Despite the crowded docks, the Port of Seattle expects to see about 62,350 fewer cruise goers this year than in 2010 – a $53 million drop in income for the city, according to the Port.

For each Seattle-based voyage, the city brings in $1.9 million as passengers eat, shop and rent hotel rooms, and as vessels stock up on supplies and pay for services such as unloading and trash disposal, according to an outside assessment commissioned by the Port.

Last year a record 223 cruises took off from Seattle.

This year’s drop to 195 planned departures is partly due to Princess Cruises and the Holland America Line each moving one ship to Europe. The Port of Seattle is in regular contact with the cruise executives and is hopeful they’ll return to the Alaska route, spokesman Peter McGraw said.

A couple of years ago, when Holland America decided to pull a ship from Seattle starting this year, it was partly because of an expensive head tax on passengers arriving in Alaska, said Paul Goodwin, executive vice president of planning at Holland America. Alaska has since lowered the tax.

The number of passengers leaving from Seattle has grown every year with the exception of 2009, when the total passengers dipped by about 5,300 from the year before.

While Seattle is seeing a slump, business in Vancouver, B.C., is booming. The Canadian port expects a 15 percent increase in voyages this year, said Peter Xotta, vice president for planning and development at Port Metro Vancouver. Last year, when the number of ships coming into Seattle hit that all-time high, Vancouver’s business dropped 31 percent.

The two ports have been dueling for liners since the first cruise ship set off from the Port of Seattle to Alaska in 1999. Disney entered the Alaskan cruise market this year and is taking a “test the waters” approach, Disney spokeswoman Christi Erwin Donnan said. The Disney Wonder made Vancouver its home port and is expected to bring in almost $40 million for the city, according to Port Metro Vancouver. But that income won’t be around for long.

The line is headed to Seattle next spring and will make only two home-port calls in Vancouver next year.

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