Kirby Day recalls the last time cruise cruiser exploded in Juneau, Alaska, more than two decades ago: annual growth was approaching 14 percent and locals were worried that the new 600,000 visitors were far too much.
"It was interesting at the time that people had thought too much," said Day, manager of Holland America Group's port operations for regions like Alaska and director of best management practices for tourism in Juneau. "We were behind the eight-ball, the city behind the eight-ball, the people were not prepared."
The refrain sounds familiar this year, with record numbers as the seasonal ships' parade begins on Sunday as operators send newer, larger ships into a market that delivered consistently high prices. More than 1.3 million passengers are expected this summer, an increase of 16 percent over the previous year; By 2020, a one-digit plus point for the profits this year. Juneau, where the vast majority of Alaskan cruises include a stop, can only pick up five large ships at once, further slowing down the increases.
"That's a significant increase," said Day. He assumes that the additional numbers will be absorbed during the cruise season without too much interruption. However, that does not mean that there will be no challenges on the ground.
"I think now is the key to accepting these challenges, to do our best and challenge tour operators to find a way to make their businesses more community-friendly," he said.
Last week, the Juneau Empire newspaper published a story with the question "How many tourists are too many?". She was bound to a local meeting on sustainability and cruise visits.
"Right now, we're starting to talk about growth in these community discussions," said Day.
Anchorage writer Scott McMurren, who publishes the online travel newsletter Alaska Travelgram, called the growth of cruises "a kind of mixed vessel".
"We are thrilled that this is a robust and healthy business," said McMurren, who is also co-editor of the Alaska TourSaver, a travel coupon that many cruise passengers buy. "However, we want to ensure that Alaska is a stable and sustainable partner in this company. Because otherwise you lose value, and it's not going to be a good place to live and raise your family, nor is it the kind of destination that has that mysterious charm that has been dragging people here for generations. "
Cruise on the rise
The number is increasing as more ships arrive, but there are also larger ships – the largest Alaska has ever visited. An extended Panama Canal makes it easier for cruise liners to position their large ships on the west coast. And the goal is worthwhile for the operators, who usually earn high prices, even though promising markets like China have cooled off for some.
Last year, Norwegian Cruise Line announced that China-tailored Norwegian Joy ship would change course and instead travel to Alaska in summer 2019 – summer in the summer – after a $ 50 million renovation.
"China's market is good," Norwegian Cruise Line President and CEO told Skift in July. "But it's not as good as Alaska."
The operator used 2018 a huge new ship, the 4.004 passenger Norwegian Bliss, to Alaska. Stuart described his performance as "a knock-out-of-the-park success," which is why the Norwegian is looking for even more profit this summer with Bliss and Joy from the same class on the market.
"We saw her receiving a fantastic welcome at the launch of Norwegian Bliss, and I think that's partly because Alaska has not seen so much new capacity," Stuart said earlier this month. "The launch of a new ship has fueled the goal enormously. Having two new ships on the market is a big win. "
Royal Caribbean International's Ovation of the Seas, a 4,180-passenger vessel that entered service in 2016, and Princess Cruises' Royal Princess, which serves 3,600 passengers on double occupancy, will also be coming to the public this year, making a popular market more competitive than ever before. All this has put additional pressure on pricing.
During a panel discussion at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference earlier this month, Infinity Research analyst Assia Georgieva said her price reviews have fallen because of the competitive pressure Norwegian has on himself and Princess Cruises.
"However, for ships operating in Alaska, the average daily rate is so much higher than in China or the Caribbean that it still helps the overall company average," she said. "In Alaska this year, I think it's the extra capacity that's affecting the market, but I'm firmly convinced that we'll return to normal over a three-year adjustment period."
David Beckel, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, said that Alaska still has room for growth.
"I think Alaska is a market where adding supply can increase demand," he said. "I'm not worried about what we're seeing [in] Pricing. "
During a poll last month, Carnival Corp. executives said prices in Alaska are lower than last year. CFO David Bernstein said the company has 17 ships there, which would mean a capacity increase of 8 percent.
Cunard, a Carnival Corp. line, has a ship on the market for the first time in 20 years. Josh Leibowitz, Cunard North America's Senior Vice President, said the first-cruiser's attractiveness is one reason why operators are so popular.
"People wanted to leave," he said. "We want to build the North American market for Cunard. People wanted to leave, and so we are here. "
Other Carnival Corp. brands are growing big. After 50 years in Alaska, Princess Cruises has this year's largest stake with seven ships, including Royal Princess. Holland America Line, which has been on the market for over 70 years, has eight ships and a new branding to delineate: "We Are Alaska".
"There's so much energy in Alaska that many attendees join," said Orlando Ashford, president of Holland America Line. "You have to go with someone who has been doing it for a while, because you'll see it a bit better."
He argued that Holland America's vessels, carrying around 2,000 passengers, were better suited to the destination than larger, newer ones.
"I really believe that the message is of paramount importance against the value of Alaska," said Ashford. "You want to experience Alaska with Alaskans, not with anyone who chooses your city in the city [rest of the] United States. You come to some of these ports with these big ships, and these little towns are overwhelming. "
ups and downs
The number of passengers has grown rather steadily since 2010 and 2011, when traffic decreased after the introduction of a poll tax a few years ago. However, the legislature agreed to lower the tax in 2010 as the industry returned with a rally and trial – and the annual flotilla in larger numbers.
Over the years, cruise liners and local communities have invested in infrastructure to better manage their visits and expand passenger offerings.
And there were other complaints: The Cruise Lines International Association Alaska sued Juneau for using revenue from the fees charged by cruise lines.
"It has been a long and contentious three years," said John Binkley, president of the Alaska chapter. "And that's difficult if you want to partner with a community and grow the industry and still fight."
In March, the sites finally arrived at a settlement that allowed the city to use fees for services such as guards crossing, signage, infrastructure improvements, security patrols, beautification, and restrooms. The city paid the legal costs of the association under the agreement.
Binkley said the focus is now "to increase and maintain the quality of life of the locals in Alaska." It will be a start to avoid another year of double-digit growth in 2020.
"It expands when you grow so fast," he said. "I think it's more sustainable if you can do it at a higher speed."
Kirby Day, director of the Tourism Best Practices Group, recently said on sunny days that people were out and about scrubbing, printing, painting, and otherwise preparing buildings in downtown Juneau for the start of the cruise season , Vans filled up retailers and buses and touring vehicles were on the move as the drivers were trained.
"People are still doing what they need to do, working out, filling the shops with products, the restaurants are open and it's somehow alive with no visitors," he said.
And he does a lot of meetings – with residents, tour operators, the press, basically everyone who wants to talk about the coming season and ways to mitigate the impact.
The Tourism Best Management Practices program, launched in 1997 with 15 guidelines, now covers 98. These include roads that are to be avoided in Juneau, places where left turns are unacceptable, tour departure times, and many wildlife observation procedures. There are some new additions this year, such as slowing down in certain marine areas, keeping buses off of several streets in a neighborhood, and avoiding certain areas frequented by locals.
More than 80 companies have registered, including shipping companies, tour operators, restaurants and retailers. Day said other destinations in Alaska had asked after submitting the program, and cruise ports in other parts of the world would also have expressed interest.
"I think we are in a much better position today to cope with growth than we were in the mid-90s when this program was unavailable," said Day.
He assumes that the additional 175,000 or so visitors this year will essentially fit in over the course of the season, which spans nearly five months.
"That does not mean that someone does not get stuck behind a slow bus or hear a helicopter," he said. "But I think it will fit in. I think that the number of people is causing people to get up and become attentive."
McMurren, the author of Anchorage, said the goal was to fight the overall planning, coordination and consequences of cruise ship tourism. However, the importance of the industry can not be ignored.
"Many of these people would never see anything of Alaska unless they had that $ 699 special on a seven-day cruise," he said.
"Can we handle it? Yes, "McMurren said. "Will it change our destination? Yes, there is no way to avoid this kind of impact as thousands upon thousands of people come daily. … Our task as Alaskan is, however, to ensure that this remains a sustainable goal for generations to come. "
Picture credits: Norwegian Bliss is shown in this ad photo on the Lynn Canal in Southeast Alaska. The destination expects a significant increase in passengers this year. Norwegian cruise line