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The cruise ship industry in Juneau will continue to grow this year, with an increase of about 9 percent in expected visitors, said Lorene Palmer, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The North West CruiseShip Association, whose nine member cruise lines are the largest that visit the state, expects about 800,000 cruise ship passengers to visit Juneau this summer.
Passengers on smaller cruise lines will boost that number to about 850,000, Palmer said.
Though it is still too early to predict independent travel numbers - most bookings for independent travelers take place in April and May - national trends show an increase in travel in general, Palmer said.
"We're hoping that Juneau will benefit from those national trends," she said.
The visitors bureau was able to track independent travelers entering and leaving Juneau last year for the first time since 1993, Palmer said. According to numbers based on airport and ferry terminal surveys, 99,400 independent travelers visited Juneau last summer. In the summer of 1993, about 120,000 independent travelers came to Juneau.
"Highway traffic across the state has dropped," said Palmer.
Gerd Krause, general manager of the Westmark Baranof, is optimistic that this year will be better than last for the hotel.
"I don't think it will be a great summer, like we had before Sept. 11 (2001)," Krause said. "I don't think we'll recover that fast."
Tour companies have requested more rooms for groups at the Baranof this summer, but group bookings can change dramatically between now and summer, Krause said.
"It's a little bit early to say. ... I think the summer will be better this year than last year, but not much," he said.
The North West CruiseShip Association's nine member lines will send 27 ships to the state this summer, one more than they sent last year, said John Hansen, president of the organization. Those ships will make an expected 462 calls in Juneau.
Though the capacity has increased from last year, the cruise industry in Alaska is not growing as fast as it is in some newer markets.
"Alaska is what I would characterize as a mature market," Hansen said.
In the early 1990s, when Alaska cruise travel grew by as much as 14 percent a year, the Alaska market was the only one available for summer cruise ship passengers, he said.
Now Alaska is competing with such destinations as the Caribbean, Mexico, the Eastern seaboard of the United States, Hawaii and Northern Europe.
Though growth in Alaska's tour industry is slow, the demographics of cruise ship passengers to Alaska is changing, Hansen said. Passengers are younger than in the past and more often traveling with families.
Younger travelers are looking for more adventurous shore excursions and Juneau tour operators have obliged in recent years, said Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Tours.
Princess will offer 34 shore excursion options to its passengers in Juneau this year. The company offered about half that number in the early 1990s, Day said.
"In 1991, about 67 percent of guests took the standard bus tour to the glacier," he said. "Today that's probably less than 35 percent."
Passengers still see the Mendenhall Glacier, but often the experience is combined with rafting, biking or hiking, Day said.
In 2003, the most popular shore excursions offered by Princess Tours to passengers in Juneau were a whale- and wildlife-watching trip with Allen Marine and an icefield trekking experience led by Northstar Trekking, Day said.
Cruise lines will send ships to Hoonah, Prince Rupert, B.C., and Whittier for the first time this season, Hansen said. None of these ports will detract from the number of stops in Juneau, though.
Ships stopping in Prince Rupert will forgo stopping in Victoria, British Columbia. Hoonah will take some calls away from Sitka, and Whittier will join Anchorage as a turnaround point for ships that leave Vancouver and sail across the Gulf of Alaska.
Christine Schmid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.