Southeast Alaska: Reliant Upon Cruise Tourism.In many ways, Southeast Alaska is similar to the Caribbean in that it relies heavily on tourism for economic income and local job creation.According to Rain Coast Data and Juneau's Southeast Conference Visitor Industry Committee, nearly 90 percent of all visitors to Southeast Alaska arrive by cruise ship. Popular ports of call include major towns like Juneau and Ketchikan, along with smaller municipalities like Sitka, Wrangell, Petersburg, Skagway, Haines and Icy Strait Point, operated by the nearby Tlingit village of Hoonah.Alaskan cruises also provide economic benefit to a number of other locales. Cruises routinely leave from Vancouver, British Columbia, and call on the provincial capital of Victoria. A handful call in more out-of-the-way ports in BC, including Prince Rupert and sometimes Nanaimo. Smaller, more expedition-oriented vessels sometimes travel to Klemtu or the hallowed islands of Haida Gwaii.In Washington state, Seattle has positioned itself as a worthy competitor to Vancouver since cruises began out of the Evergreen State in 1999. Today, it routinely hosts up to half of all vessels bound for Alaskan waters.Some of these cities have other industries that can keep them afloat during the pandemic. Others -- like Skagway and Icy Strait Point -- exist almost entirely for the benefit of tourists. And it is here that the losses of the 2020 Alaska cruise season have been the most acute.
Job Losses, Tourism Industry Retracts Across the Region.
According to Alaska's Southeast Conference, leisure and hospitality jobs retracted by 38 percent year-over-year between April and July 2020 when compared with data from 2019. Transportation jobs, including tourism-based motorcoach operators, shrank by a whopping 50 percent.
Data released this month indicates unemployment had already jumped from 5.2 percent in Southeast Alaska to 11.3 percent by July 2020.Hardest hit was Skagway, which reported 19.1 percent unemployment by July 2020. Haines, which was already seeing 22 percent unemployment by May, leveled off at 15.9 percent. Hoonah (Icy Strait Point) experienced 15.9 percent unemployment by July 2020, with Ketchikan coming in at 12.7 percent.The national unemployment average across the United States for this time period was 10.5 percent.Many port towns in Southeast Alaska are reliant on tourism for a significant percentage of their jobs and economic income. More, still, are deeply reliant on the arrival of cruise ships to the state, which bring 90 percent of all visitors to Alaska.Leisure and hospitality job losses in Southeast Alaska were pegged at 5,400 positions -- the rough equivalent of the populations of Hoonah, Haines, Skagway and Wrangell combined.
Cruise Ports Hit Hardest as Revenue Declines.The Southeast Conference report shows that ports reliant on cruise and tourism have been hit the hardest when it comes to revenue.Skagway, the pioneering Gold Rush town at the end of Lynn Canal that served historically as the base for the Chilkoot Pass and the Klondike gold rush of 1896 and the start of the famed White Pass & Yukon Route railroad, today exists primarily for tourism purposes. Much like the gold rush days over a century before, the town's population (and fortunes) flourish in the summertime before many residents leave for the winter months.With the cruise industry absent for 2020, local businesses and attractions like the WP&YR have seen their profits largely eliminated."By community, Skagway businesses have lost the most, with reported average revenue loss of 80 percent, followed by Haines and Ketchikan," notes the report. "Juneau businesses report the smallest average revenue decline of 'only' 46 percent."Nearby Haines, on the western edge of Lynn Canal, lost 68 percent of its revenue by June. Ketchikan, Alaska's most southerly port of call before entering the waters of British Columbia, reported a net loss of 67 percent of its total revenue, most of which is in tourism.
A 2019 survey prepared by the Southeast Conference and Rain Coast Data showed that of 460 respondents, 54 percent believed the overall business climate last year was "good".A survey conducted in June 2020 showed that number had dropped to just seven percent. The majority of respondents (51 percent) said the overall business climate was "Very Poor," while another 38 percent rated it as "Poor."A total of 43 percent of all businesses surveyed cited the loss of cruise ships in 2020 as having an "enormous" impact on revenues -- the fourth-most cited response out of 24 different possibilities. This came in just behind lost revenue, declining sales and lack of customers -- all of which are partially attributable to the loss of the 2020 Alaska cruise season.Data released in September 2020 by Rain Coast Data and the Southeast Conference showed a full 35 percent of respondent businesses stated they are at risk of closing permanently by July 2021 unless conditions improve.