Cruise re-routings due to economic downturn, not tax

Posted: Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why does cruise reporting so often miss the boat? I was disappointed to see yet another article in the Empire (Monday, May 11 edition) citing cruise lobbyist insinuations (without refutation) regarding the impact of the Alaska head tax on visitor numbers. There is no verifiable data to support this claim. The only independent assessment of this question was conducted by the McDowell Group after the 2007 season, which found the number of ships, the number of passengers, and the spending per passenger did not decline as a result of the initiative.

It is obvious recent re-routings and ship transfers are due to the U.S. economic meltdown. The Empire shouldn't abet the industry's attempt to prey on the public's financial fears by providing an unchallenged platform for scapegoating the head tax passed by citizen's initiative.

Passengers pay head taxes (some higher, some lower) in nearly every port of call around the world, yet the industry deliberately, falsely, portrays Alaska as unique in this regard. (See Alaska Legislative Research Report Number 09.265 on May 1.) Furthermore, the recent article once again failed to consider that cruise lines have been making billions in profits for years and could easily absorb the tax if they thought it was hurting passenger numbers. For some reason their phenomenal profit margins are never considered part of the equation, even though a huge percentage of their profits result from skirting U.S. income tax and wage laws through the registration of their ships in third-world countries.

To add injury to insult, Royal Caribbean recently suspected swine flu was present on the Serenade of the Seas while the ship was in Washington, but rather than remove infected crewmen for treatment in Seattle, which would have cost them money, they brought them to Alaska.

Cruise ships have often been likened to floating cities when we consider passenger and crew numbers and wastewater discharge volumes - in terms of public health they are floating Petri dishes. The industry's track record on controlling viral outbreaks is abysmal. The public, and our state administration responsible for our health and welfare, should be furious they knowingly brought the first suspected cases of swine flu to isolated communities in Alaska with limited public health resources.

Gershon Cohen


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