As the cruise industry gets back on track after two years without sailing, only one cruise stop in Anchorage is planned for September this year.
Holland America downsized its fleet two years ago shortly after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. And that reduced the number of ships that once brought about 1,500 visitors to Anchorage on a two-week Alaskan-focused tour.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the industry, cruise lines made about a dozen stops in Anchorage each summer. They docked in Alaska Harbor and delivered crowds of tourists ready to visit souvenir shops and restaurants.
Tour operators and others say the change will have a small impact on Anchorage’s economy. They expect any losses to be offset by other changes in what some believe could be a record year for Alaska tourism.
Large numbers of cruise guests are expected to disembark at Seward and Whittier this season — the first cruise stops in south-central Alaska in two years — and make their way to Anchorage. Companies also say they are seeing promising signs of another strong year for independent travelers — travelers not tied to a cruise itinerary — which have grown in profit over the past year.
Small businesses and restaurants in Anchorage will feel some impact from reduced Anchorage shipping calls, said Josh Howes, president of Premier Alaska Tours, which provides transportation for Holland America cruise guests.
But the ships only stopped in Anchorage for one day, which limited the economic impact of the guests, he said.
“I would say the biggest impact for the ships not coming into downtown Anchorage will likely be on the vendors because people are taking shuttles downtown and going to restaurants and gift shops and getting back on shuttles and going away would,” said Howes, a board member of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
The ships also stopped at other towns along the Alaskan coast, so the reduced schedule will be felt a bit in other communities like Homer, Howes said. But the expected flood of visitors to south-central Alaska should offset the losses, he said.
“Anytime we can have revenue diversification, it’s a good thing. So when they come back, it’s going to be great when they come back,” Howes said.
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Jim Jager, a spokesman for the Port of Alaska, said most ships visiting the port were Holland America ships making repeat voyages, but some other ships also made one-off stops in Anchorage, like the 1,000-foot Queen Elizabeth .
Those ships are not scheduled to return to Anchorage this year, Jager said.
Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam is the only ship scheduled to dock in the port on September 15. It can accommodate around 2,100 guests.
Erik Elvejord, a Holland America spokesman, said the reduced visits to Anchorage were due to the cruise line selling four ships in mid-2020. The company now operates 11 ships.
With the reduced fleet, Holland America is focused on delivering its core model of week-long cruises, he said.
But there’s still demand for two-week cruises to Alaska and elsewhere, he said.
Holland America has scheduled two visits to Anchorage in 2023, one in May and the other in September. So there are already signs of growth, he said.
He said Anchorage is very welcoming, with community groups and schools visiting the ships.
As demand for the longer Alaskan voyages continues to grow, the company will send more ships to Anchorage, he said.
“It was a wonderful call,” he said.