Season saw independent, cruise-ship visitor increase

Posted: Sunday, September 26, 2004

More people visited Juneau by land and sea this summer, resulting in bigger sales overall, cruise ship and retail officials said.

Cruise ship passenger figures are not complete, but nearly 846,000 people will have visited Juneau when the Norwegian Spirit embarks Monday evening, compared to about 760,000 who came in 2003, said Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Tours.

"We expected that. We expected an 8 to 10 percent increase over last year," Day said.

The reason for more cruise ship passengers is a stronger economy, reduced travel anxiety from Sept. 11, 2001, and the ease of seeing Alaska by ship, travel industry officials said.

"The economy seemed to be better," said Linda Huston, a regional manager for Gray Line of Alaska and Holland America Tours. "Alaska, as a destination, is a place people want to travel to."

Holland America had seven ships with a total capacity of about 10,000 per week, she said. New this year Holland America brought its largest ship, Oosterdam, with a capacity of 1,850.

Princess Cruises brought seven ships with a total capacity of 260,000, Day said. It replaced a smaller ship and brought a new one this season, he said. Also, the Island Princess, a new ship in 2003 only made 10 sailings last year compared to the full 18 this season, he said.

Meanwhile, the number of people visiting Juneau as independent travelers was also up due to a stronger economy and reduced travel fears, industry officials said.

The number of Juneau International Airport deplanements for June was up to 33,306, compared to 31,612 last year, said Lorene Palmer, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. She did not have figures yet for the other summer months.

"Overall across the state there's been reports that things are positive and they're on the upswing," Palmer said.

Jeff Polizzotto, owner the Alaska Wolf House bed and breakfast, thought he'd recoup his business investment in about a year after he bought the B&B in April. Instead it took 212 months because business was so good this summer, he said. Occupancy at the Wickersham Avenue B&B did not dip below 85 percent every day, he said.

"The independent travelers are really the lifeblood to bed and breakfasts because they will stay for a period of time and really get to know the area," he said.

The Driftwood Lodge Motel, which gets only independent travelers, also had a robust summer, co-owner Kathy Wilson said.

"We did excellent," Wilson said. "It was a busy season all season."

Visitors from Australia and Europe frequent the Willoughby Avenue motel, she said.

Pam Brewer found that moving her women's clothing store, Foxfire, to South Franklin Street generated much more cruise ship passenger foot traffic, she said. Brewer closed Kim's Kloset on South Seward Street in April and opened Foxfire.

"The move was definitely good for us," she said.

Evening gowns for cruise ship crew members and passengers is Brewer's biggest selling item in the summertime because of formal nights held on ships, she said.

A robust cruise ship season resulted in higher retail sales at Hearthside Books on Front Street, said co-owner Debbie Reifenstein.

"I think in general the ships were just fuller this year," she said. "We saw more foot traffic compared to last year."

Passengers are attracted to books about the northern lights, Mendenhall Glacier and gold rush, Reifenstein said. Also, more book signings attracted visitors, she said.

The Norwegian Spirit leaves Juneau at 6 p.m. Monday.

• Tara Sidor can be reached at tara.sidor@juneauempire.com



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