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Cruise outlook for 2005 shows growth

Princess president says future seems static

Posted: Sunday, April 10, 2005

Cruise industry officials say the 2005 visitor season is shaping up to be a busier one for the industry and Juneau business owners.

The cruise lines expect a 4 percent growth in cruise passenger visits to Juneau over 2004 arrivals.

An estimated 914,962 cruise passengers will visit the capital between May 8 and Sept. 27, according to the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"It's fair to say that it's going to be a solid year," said Charlie Ball, president of Princess Tours, in a speech to Juneau business leaders on Thursday.

Cruise passengers are expected to spend about $160 million in town. Ship personnel are expected to provide another $7 million to $8 million in local spending, according to visitor bureau estimates.

But looking to the future, growth for the cruise industry seems static, Ball said.

During a luncheon talk with Juneau Chamber of Commerce members this week, Ball said 2006 passenger growth in Alaska is predicted to be at its lowest rate since 2000.

Susan Bell, a partner with Juneau's McDowell Group, said the consulting firm's own studies seem to show that the growth trend for Alaska as a cruise destination is slowing over the long term.

With all the talk about controversial cruise ship taxation in the Legislature this spring, "I think this has caused (cruise lines) to need to communicate more about what is happening with the industry," Bell said.

Joe Geldhof, a Juneau attorney spearheading a 2006 ballot initiative for a $46 tax per cruise passenger, said "the industry has worked hard to market Alaska and they've been successful."

He said the industry, however, is trying to perpetuate fear about the future in order to fight the tax proposals.

"These are the same exact arguments and threats that were made when the city of Juneau enacted its ($5-per-passenger) head tax."

"Clearly, it's a dynamic industry," he added. "But Alaska has huge cachet and it almost sells itself. Nobody is predicting a precipitous drop-off."

Ball said Thursday that Alaska is beginning to see a bit of erosion in its more expensive, longer cruise packages.

Those packages generally include a land tour in the Interior, and their numbers could have implications for tourism for Alaska as a whole, Ball said

"It's harder to sell the 10- to 12-day trips," he said.

On the other hand, less-expensive seven-day, round-trip tours based out of Seattle or Vancouver have been a new target for the industry in recent years. So far, the shorter trips that travel the Inside Passage have been a hit with passengers, Ball said.

Ball said proposed taxation in two legislative bills as well as the ballot initiative would hit Interior tourism destinations the hardest.

"In Juneau, you aren't the last place people spend money," he said.

Ball also said it is "fairly certain" that the industry will seek a legal ruling on whether the state is allowed to put income from a $50 or $75 head tax into its general fund to pay for non-port expenses.

The 2005 cruise season begins in Juneau on May 8 and will end Sept. 27.

Thirty-eight ships will make about 580 port calls during the season. Only one new ship, the Norwegian Dream, will visit Juneau this summer.

• Elizabeth Bluemink can be reached at elizabeth.bluemink@juneauempire.com.



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