The Ketchikan City Council spent much of Thursday’s meeting discussing the state of the local economy and brainstorming ways to safely allow cruise ship tourism to resume.
Large swaths of the cruise ship calendar have been wiped clean due to the coronavirus. Including Wednesday’s announcement that Princess and Holland America wouldn’t bring ships to Alaska this summer, Ketchikan’s economy stands to lose more than $140 million in visitor spending from cruise cancellations. That’s according to data from the Ketchikan Visitors’ Bureau.
Council Member Mark Flora applauded the state’s gradual efforts to get Alaskans back to work at Thursday’s City Council meeting. But he said getting local businesses back open is only half the battle.
“So this is where we’re at today: There’s likely little to no cruise season to speak of and a really significant loss of revenue, both in private spending and taxes and fees,” he said. “Being able to open up locally and operate as normally as possible is a step in the right direction but will leave us far short of a solid, functional economy.”
Ketchikan’s economy depends on cruise tourism, and Council Member Sam Bergeron pointed out that a COVID-19 vaccine still remains far in the future.
“We need to figure out how to do business in this environment,” Bergeron said. “It’s not going to be easy, a lot of people are going to be afraid, they’re going to be unsure, and so that’s why we as community leaders, as state leaders, as the governor, need to make that process as public as possible and get the best people involved in it. ”
And for that reason, Bergeron said, it’s important to develop a set of criteria before cruise ships are allowed to dock again. Those could include testing and quarantine requirements, capacity limits, sanitation procedures, and other measures aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Bergeron suggested forming a consortium of Southeast Alaska cruise ports that would work together on a set of safe cruising standards. City Manager Karl Amylon said that officials in other cruise destinations — including Skagway and Juneau — have said they’d be open to the idea.