Fewer visitors could be stopping at Seward next summer

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

SEWARD (AP) -- While early, there already are some indications there could be fewer visitors to Seward next summer.

At the moment, fewer cruise ship dockings are scheduled to visit Seward, although there is no word yet on passenger levels.

Last year, Seward saw 106 dockings, and the schedule currently shows 94 dockings for the coming season, said Jenifer Trautwein, Seward port manager for Cruise Lines Agencies of Alaska. The first scheduled vessel will be the Star Princess due to arrive May 18.

Cruise ships began docking in Seward in growing numbers in 1992, after Whittier imposed a head tax on passengers. Back in 1990, 29 ships docked in Seward. Ten years later the total was 89.

In seasons past, roughly 35 percent of the summer's visitors came by cruise ship, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association. In 1998, more than 1.3 million visitors came to Alaska, but more recently there has been a leveling in the industry's growth.

Cruise ship companies have been shuffling European vessels to the domestic market, but the companies that sail to Seward are keeping those rerouted ships on Pacific Northwest and Southeast Alaska tours.

Earlier this month, Alaska Railroad Corp. president Patrick Gamble was guardedly optimistic when asked about the anticipated number of cruise ships and rail passengers the railroad expects next summer.

''The good news is we don't see a great big drop coming,'' Gamble said.

The decline in the local cruise ship schedule is largely due to Holland America's decision to sell a vessel that has been using Seward as a turnaround point, Holland said.

''There is some shifting that has been done,'' said Erik Elvejord, director of public relations for Holland America in Seattle, Wash.

Holland sold the Westerdam and is moving European and South American vessels to the domestic market, he said.

The company will have six ships serving Alaska, but the cruise that turned around in Seward will be dropped this season.

There is still no word on what the passenger numbers may be like, because the heavy booking season is still a month or two away.

''But we are optimistic as we head forward,'' Elvejord said.

One hope is that tourists who were considering destinations in Europe will turn to Alaska. That would present an opportunity for Seward, said chamber executive director Julie Tauriainen.

''Alaska is seen as a safe haven,'' Tauriainen said.

Beefing up advertising and marketing is the best way to try and attract those Alaska-bound visitors, she said.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association has asked Gov. Tony Knowles for $12.5 million in emergency marketing funding.

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