The Alaska cruise industry continues to expand. This state is experiencing larger ships plying its waters and cruise ship companies new to Alaska are soon to debut itineraries for the world's Last Frontier.
Add the ships that came to Alaska in 2015 to those that are scheduled to arrive in the summer of 2018 and you obtain an average growth in ship tonnage of 16% and an increase in capacity of about 14%. These numbers are according to Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) of Alaska.
"A lot of the growth is in those smaller ports," said John Binkley, president of CLIA Alaska. He suggested that Hoonah, Whittier and Wrangell are a some of the ports that have seen an upsurge in activity recently or will see one soon.
"The total number of passengers at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, for example, is expected to grow by 17% between this year and next summer alone," stated Mike Tibbles, a government affairs consultant for the cruise association.
"A large percentage of the recent growth in the Alaska cruise industry has come from larger ships replacing smaller ones," he said. As well as the larger ships, there are will be more ships visiting Alaska waters than in previous years.
"For the 2014 season, 28 ships sailed Alaskan waters," he said, "and that number is up to 33 planned for this year." Furthermore, the number of voyages those vessels are taking through Alaskan waters is estimated to increase from 485 in 2015 to 518 this next season.
Some new cruise lines are expected to sail the Alaskan coast in coming years. Viking Cruises, Cunard Line, and Azamara Club Cruises are all planning 2019 itineraries for Alaska. Windstar Cruises is also plying Alaskan waters in 2018.
"Alaska is still considered the Last Frontier for a good number of reasons," said Mary Schimmelman, a spokesperson for the Seattle based Windstar Cruises. She was asked why the state was such an attractive market for expansion. "Destination authenticity is something we are really after," she said.
Holland America Line and Princess Cruises have set in place their plans to increase passenger capacity for Alaska.
"Some ports around the state will need to upgrade infrastructure, or in some cases add more dock capacity, to be able to handle larger ships and more passengers," Binkley said.
"Seward's numbers are going to increase for sure," said Christy Terry, Seward port manager with the Alaska Railroad Corp. "The railroad needs to construct a new dock in the coming years because the current cruise ship facilities there is at the end of its life," she added. "Within that construction, we are taking into account larger cruise ships and increased traffic patterns."
Approximately 1,060,000 passengers are expected to arrive in the Last Frontier this season aboard such ships, according to the state's cruise association. This will set a new all time record. The passenger count that topped 1,000,000 last summer was a first since 2009.
This projection of 1,060,000 passengers, if met, would be the third year in a row of cruise passenger growth in the state.
Binkley suggests that this growth is due to aggressive marketing in recent years and the fact that Alaska stands out as an "exotic" vacation destination that is still a part of the good ol' US of A.
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