Early-season cruise cancellations announced Thursday in response to the coronavirus outbreak could spell trouble for Ketchikan’s visitor industry.
The cancellations were announced Thursday morning. That evening, Gov. Mike Dunleavy told reporters that the state had its first presumptive positive case of COVID-19.
Cancellations from two cruise lines could mean at least a million-dollar hit to Ketchikan’s economy. That’s according to Patti Mackey of the Ketchikan Visitors’ Bureau.
“Through the research we do, we know that visitors spent about $158 per person per day when you’re a cruise passenger visiting a port in Ketchikan,” Mackey said Thursday morning in a phone interview.
Princess Cruises said Thursday they would suspend cruises worldwide for 60 days in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Viking Ocean Cruises also announced it would suspend sailings until May 1.
Two Princess ships and one Viking ship were — until Thursday — scheduled to visit Ketchikan during that time, including the Grand Princess. That’s the ship with confirmed cases of COVID-19 that disembarked this week in Oakland.
Mackey says the three ships would have brought a total of more than 6,000 passengers to the downtown docks.
She says she’s watching to see if other cruise companies follow Princess and Viking’s lead.
“Well, I think the next week or so will be very telling,” she said. “We may see others also follow in that vein, only time is going to tell.”
And if more companies cancel, she says that could mean a lean summer for tourism businesses in Ketchikan.
“We have businesses that are concerned about everything from employees, and — are they going to be able to afford to pay them? Do they suspend or narrow down their operations?” she said. “People that were looking at doing improvements or major investments this year probably are going to want to wait.”
City and borough cutting back on travel
And while Princess and Viking are suspending leisure travel, Ketchikan city officials say they’ve frozen official travel for 30 days.
State officials announced Alaska’s first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 Thursday evening. The state’s chief medical officer says the patient was an international traveler who transited the Anchorage airport.
Ketchikan city mayor Bob Sivertsen said in a Thursday morning phone interview that the travel freeze is intended to limit the virus’s ability to spread.
“We’re trying to respond to you know, keeping the potential for infection or exposure to a minimum for the community,” he said.
Assistant city manager Lacey Simpson said the city will consider exceptions to the freeze on a case-by-case basis. And she said they’re considering a pause in hiring as well.
Over in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough offices, mayor Rodney Dial says the borough hasn’t instituted a travel freeze, but it’s discouraging official trips.
“There’s probably going to be no travel except that travel that’s absolutely necessary to maintain critical certifications,” he said Thursday morning.
Dial says he asked federal officials to stockpile food, medical supplies and coronavirus test kits in Ketchikan during a recent trip to the nation’s capital.
“You know, we want to prepare as much as possible realizing that any potential disruption on the west coast could impact flights coming to our community,” Dial said. “And we also pushed the case that our community was kind of a hub for the communities around us, from Metlakatla to Prince of Wales.”
And Dial says that he’s preparing for borough revenue to take a hit as fewer tourists pay sales and head taxes.
“I’ve asked that the travel budgets for the mayor and assembly be zeroed out. I’ve also asked that my personal mayor’s budget be completely zeroed out,” he said.
But Dial says he’s confident that the borough has sufficient financial reserves to survive a significant reduction in tax revenue.