KETCHIKAN - A cruise ship company will bypass Ketchikan next year in favor of tours out of Juneau and Anchorage.
The decision by Seattle-based Cruise West halts more than 25 years of visits by the company's small vessels to Ketchikan, near the southern tip of the Alaska Panhandle. Economics and guest preference figured into the decision, said vice president John Kreilkamp.
"This was not an easy decision," Kreilkamp said. "As you know, we've been here for a long time."
Cruise West could return in the future, he said.
"I think the key word here is 'suspend' until the demand increases," he said.
Ketchikan was one of three ports that welcomed the company's Southeast Alaska cruises in 1984. The pullout will have both an economic and emotional effect.
"To them, it's more about a relationship than money, and I appreciate that," said Joe Williams, the former Ketchikan Gateway Borough and Saxman mayor who's in his 18th year providing Tlingit cultural lectures and walking tours for Cruise West.
Cruise West was one of a few lines that earlier this year announced cuts in sailings to Juneau for 2009 or 2010.
Cruise West was formed by Alaska tourism pioneer Chuck West. He also founded Westours, which was sold to Holland America Line.
Cruise West's early cruises used day-boats such as the 70-passenger Sheltered Seas to sail between Ketchikan, Petersburg and Juneau during daylight hours. Passengers stayed in port hotels overnight.
The fleet expanded during the 1990s with vessels that carried 110 passengers or fewer.
The company had just four boats stopping in Ketchikan this year.
Cruise West built its brand on a style of small-boat cruising that takes passengers to places big ships can't go, and provides more up-close experiences of the places they visit.
"We have a brand to protect to deliver a product that is unique, uncrowded," Kreilkamp said. "When guests book a cruise with us, they're looking to do something very different."
Based on guest feedback, Cruise West must provide its passengers with more time to explore shorelines on small boats, looking for wildlife and learning about the flora and fauna, Kreilkamp said.
Ketchikan also will see fewer cruise ships from other lines next year.
Itinerary reductions by Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines will result in 71 fewer port calls in 2010, according to the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, a reduction of 110,516 passengers.
Based on estimated average spending of $159 per passenger, the economic impact of fewer passengers in Ketchikan during 2010 will be more than $17.5 million.