Whittier reaches agreement with cruise company

Posted: Wednesday, July 09, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Princess Tours has reached an agreement that will bring tens of thousands of cruise ship passengers to Whittier next summer.

The move follows the Whittier City Council's decision in April to repeal a cruise-ship head tax and exempt Princess from other fees.

The cruise and tour company, based in Santa Clarita, Calif., will reroute four ships to Whittier that now stop in Seward. The vessels, carrying around 2,000 passengers each, will make 36 stops in Whittier between May and September.

The port city of 170 residents is 65 miles south of Anchorage on the shores of Prince William Sound. The city is closer to the Anchorage airport and scenic points, such as College Fjord, than is Seward, Princess executives said.

While Princess enjoyed a good relationship with Seward, Whittier will be more convenient.

''The biggest reason is the time and distance,'' said Charlie Ball, president of Princess Tours.

Princess ships crossing the Gulf of Alaska have tied up in Seward for years. Passengers take a bus or the train to Anchorage, where they either fly home or continue on a land tour. Others do the trip in reverse.

Stopping in Whittier instead of Seward will shave hours off the trip and make the journey easier for passengers and less costly for Princess, Ball said.

For Seward, Princess' move means the loss of over half of the port's cruise ship traffic, said Mayor Stu Clark.

''We're sorry to see them go. We talked to them about staying, but they said economics dictated the move,'' Clark said.

The move to Whittier will not spell a major revenue loss for Seward because Princess paid docking fees to the Alaska Railroad, not the city, he said. Most passengers don't spend much time in Seward. They get on or off the ships and head elsewhere pretty quickly, Clark said.

The most direct hit will be to longshoremen who tie up the ships and handle the baggage and to people employed by Princess to meet and greet passengers, he said.

Princess will need about 30 people to assist passengers in Whittier, and it plans to hire locally, said Steve Judd, the company's director for Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

Princess ships made regular stops in Whittier until 1993, when city leaders, looking to raise revenue, enacted a $1 per passenger tax. Both Holland America and Princess took their business to Seward.

The Whittier City Council in late April repealed the head tax and voted in a law that largely discourages future city leaders from enacting such a fee. The ordinance says any revenue collected from a future head tax on Princess must be given back to the company. City Council members also exempted Princess from having to pay a seasonal sales tax or a $2.50 per passenger transport fee paid by day-cruise operators and charter vessels.

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