HAINES (AP) -- A longtime fixture on Southeast Alaska cruise ship schedules won't be back this year.
Citing low passenger bookings, CruiseWest announced Monday it would not operate the Spirit of Alaska in the 2002 cruise season. In addition, the cruise line is closing its Anchorage reservation office, and plans to lay off 20 to 25 workers at its Seattle headquarters.
The cutbacks are the result of a ''miserable'' fall reservation season, said company spokeswoman Maureen Camandona.
Bookings for CruiseWest 7- to 10-day Southeast Alaska tours slumped after Sept. 11, and didn't recover until January, Camandona said.
''We had a terrific January and February, but a miserable September, October, November and December. We have high hopes that we'll continue to book, but it will be hard to make up what we lost,'' Camandona told the Chilkat Valley News.
Camandona wouldn't reveal the company's percentage drop in business compared to 2002, but said it was enough to drop the 52-passenger vessel from the schedule and transfer pending reservations on the Spirit of Alaska to its sister ship, the Spirit of Endeavor.
The move leaves CruiseWest with six small- to medium-sized passenger vessels it its 2002 schedule.
''We consolidated some trips. The only way to do that is to run fewer ships. This is unprecedented, because Alaska is what we're all about. We know it's hard on you guys but it's hard on us, too.''
The decision is another hit for Haines' already-slumping tourism economy. The town lost a large portion of its cruise business last year, when Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines pulled out at the end of the 2000 season.
Although overall dockings are still up compared to 2001, City of Haines tourism director Michelle Glass said the Spirit of Alaska's 16 visits will be missed.
''Every little bit counts. The spirit ships are the ones that bring our higher-end clients,'' Glass said.
Glass said Haines is expecting approximately 90,000 cruise passengers this summer.
Camandona said unlike the major cruise companies, CruiseWest chose not to discount cabin prices to boost sales last fall. While the big lines are offering big discounts -- as much as 50 percent off -- to fill their ships, the smaller companies can't follow suit, she said.
''We don't play the same game the big lines can, because there are fewer opportunities to make money on passengers while they're on board. Our clients aren't all that price-driven,'' Camandona said.
Discounted air fares tied to Alaska cruises bumped reservations 25 percent in January.
''It's just like the buyers were sleeping through the first part of the booking season,'' she said.
CruiseWest formerly operated as Alaska Sightseeing-CruiseWest. The company was started in the early 1980s by Alaska tourism pioneer Chuck West. West's original company, Westours, was one of the first cruise lines to make regular stops in Haines.
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