Cruise ship companies are making about $1 million in charitable donations in Southeast Alaska this year, say industry officials. Even Holland America Line Westours, which threatened to drop its charitable donations after last year's head tax vote in Juneau, says it's contributing about $57,000 to Juneau organizations during the company's current fiscal year.
Overall, the nine member lines of the North West CruiseShip Association are giving $2.1 million in cash or in-kind contributions to Alaska charities and civic organizations this year, according to association President John Hansen of Vancouver, British Columbia.
"That's what you do if you belong to a community," he said.
The association has not tracked the charitable contributions of members in the past, so a year-to-year comparison isn't possible, he said. Breakouts of each company's contributions are confidential.
But Lynn Martenstein, vice president of corporate communications for Royal Caribbean International & Celebrity Cruises, said the company's contributions in Alaska have more than tripled in the past two years, from $170,000 in 1998 to $583,000 this year.
"It is quite a jump," Martenstein said from Miami today. "It is an important market for us."
In Juneau, the increase has been from $57,000 to $139,400, she said.
Most of the money is given in port communities to programs dealing with the environment, children and families, and education, based upon conversations with civic leaders, Martenstein said. Juneau beneficiaries include the Southeast Alaska Land Trust, RALLY's summer daycare program and the Sealaska Heritage Foundation.
Holland America makes direct corporate contributions and also has a community advisory board that selects some grantees. Beneficiaries this year include Aiding Women in Abuse and Rape Emergencies, Parents for a Safe Graduation and Juneau Jazz and Classics.
Al Parrish, the Anchorage-based vice president of the company, said there was a misunderstanding about comments he made following the head tax vote last year.
In mid-November, as the end of the company's fiscal year was looming, Parrish told the Empire imposition of the tax meant "it's been made clear by Juneau citizens that the relationship needs to be reassessed."
The front page article in which he was quoted, titled "Cruise company says no to charities," also noted a letter sent out to applicants for grants. The letter, from Kathy Newman, manager of the community advisory board, said: "The board regrets to inform you that they have decided to decline all requests for funding in the near future. Community sentiment regarding tourism-related issues has compelled Holland America to redefine its position in Juneau and evaluate the benefits of continued philanthropic activity."
Editorials criticizing the company for this stance then appeared in the Empire and the Anchorage Daily News.
More recently, however, Parrish said, "It was never, ever the intent that we were going to stop giving. ... It wasn't our desire to imply it." Asked why he didn't react for nine months to accounts suggesting otherwise, he said: "I didn't see that article, unfortunately. I was literally gone when that thing was printed."
In any case, the company continued charitable contributions in the fiscal year that began Dec. 1, at almost the identical level of support it had maintained for the past few years, Parrish said.
Some sponsorships were dropped, notably Marine Park summer concerts which then were underwritten by Alaskan Brewing.
"It's not an entitlement program, where if you get it one year, you get it the next one," Parrish said of Holland America's program.
At the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council, Sybil Davis said the board is "especially grateful" for Holland America's in-kind donation of hotel rooms for visiting artists. That's at least a $1,500 benefit, Davis said.
Steve White, president of the Juneau Youth Football League, said the organization has struggled in its fund-raising and appreciates the company's $2,500 grant, which he called "real valuable."
Parrish said he was not reopening the question of charitable contributions in remarks he made to Sitka civic leaders this summer. An Aug. 17 article in the Sitka Sentinel reads: "Parrish said the industry is covering the head tax expense by donating less to communities that have the tax than to those that don't."
Parrish said he was talking about money spent on dockside infrastructure, such as $75,000 for new restrooms in Sitka. The remark was not made in the context of charitable contributions, he said.
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