As the cruise line industry gets back on track after two years of zero-to-limited sailing, just one cruise stop is scheduled for Anchorage this year, in September.
Holland America downsized its fleet shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began two years ago. And that thinned the number of ships that once brought about 1,500 visitors to Anchorage at a time, as part of a two-week, Alaska-focused tour.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic battered the industry, cruise ships made about a dozen stops in Anchorage each summer. They’d tie up at the Port of Alaska, delivering gobs of tourists ready to visit gift shops and restaurants.
Tour operators and others say the change will have a small impact on the Anchorage economy. They expect any losses to be offset by other changes in what some think could be a record year for tourism in Alaska.
Massive numbers of cruise guests are expected to disembark at Seward and Whittier this season — the first cruise stops in Southcentral Alaska in two years — and make their way to Anchorage. Also, businesses say they’re seeing promising signs of another strong year of the independent travelers — travelers not tied to a cruise-backed itinerary — that boosted bottom lines last year.
Small shops and restaurants in Anchorage will see some effects of the reduced ship calls in Anchorage, said Josh Howes, president of Premier Alaska Tours, which provides transportation for Holland America cruise guests.
But the ships stopped in Anchorage only for a day, limiting the economic impact of the guests, he said.
“I’d say probably the biggest impact for the ships not coming to downtown Anchorage will be on vendors because people would take shuttles to downtown and go to restaurants and gift shops and get back on shuttles and go away,” said Howes, a board member with the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
The ships also stopped at other towns along the Alaska coast, so the reduced schedule will also be felt a bit in other communities such as Homer, Howes said. But the flood of visitors expected in Southcentral Alaska should make up for the losses, he said.
“Anytime we can have diversification of revenue is a good thing, so when they come back, it will be great to have them come back,” Howes said.
Jim Jager, a spokesman with the Port of Alaska, said that while most of the ships visiting the port were Holland America vessels making repeat trips, a few other ships also made one-off stops to Anchorage, such as the 1,000-foot Queen Elizabeth.
Those ships aren’t scheduled to return to Anchorage this year, Jager said.
Erik Elvejord, a spokesman with Holland America, said the reduced visits to Anchorage came about because the cruise line sold four ships in mid-2020. The company now runs 11 ships.
With the reduced fleet, Holland America is focused on delivering its core model of one-week cruises, he said.
But there is still demand for two-week cruises to Alaska and elsewhere, he said.
Holland America has two visits scheduled for Anchorage in 2023, one in May and the other in September. So there are already signs of growth, he said.
He said Anchorage was very welcoming, with community groups and schools visiting the ships.
If demand for the longer trips to Alaska keeps growing, the company will send more ships to Anchorage, he said.
“It’s been a wonderful call,” he said.