According to John Shively, government and community relations officer of Holland America Cruise Lines, the cruise ship industry pumps millions of dollars into Alaska -- dollars that float far beyond the coastal ports visited annually by the ships.
"The cruise industry has made (inland) investments in a whole lot of areas," Shively told the Kenai Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
He pointed to figures that show more than half of all Outside tourists who visit Alaska come by cruise ship.
"Last year we brought over three-quarters of a million people to the state," he said.
Those visitors not only spend money in coastal towns, but they also get an idea of what Alaska is all about -- something Shively said is important to areas like Kenai and Soldotna, which depend on independent tourists rather than cruise passengers.
"We get people interested, we give them a taste and they come back," he told the chamber, saying 27 percent of repeat visitors to Alaska previously visited the state via cruise ships.
In addition to bringing visitors into Alaska, Shively said his industry is responsible for employing 16,000 people and contributing a total of $800 million to the state's overall economy. And although Alaska's cruise ship industry is facing increased competition on the global market, Shively said the industry continues to see Alaska as a key to its success.
"We continue to invest in Alaska because we continue to see growth opportunities," he said.
Shively also took time Wednesday to speak out against recent talk of placing a head tax on cruise ship passengers. Although such plans recently died in the Alaska Legislature, Shively said there is a citizen's movement that's trying to move the issue forward through the initiative process, something he sees as a threat to the industry and the state's economy.
"You're actually gambling with the growth of the industry (with taxes)," he told the chamber.
He pointed to a recent survey showing that roughly half of cruise ship passengers would take into account a head tax when making their purchasing decisions and said no other state in the nation has a similar tax.
Shively said that a better solution to Alaska's fiscal woes would be an income or sales tax -- both of which would be funded partially by the cruise ship industry.
"Either one, the cruise ship industry would contribute to significantly," he said.
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