Congressional action boosts odds of cruise ships coming to Alaska

The cruise ship Le Soléal departs Cordova. The ship first visited the town on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times
The cruise ship Le Soléal departs Cordova. The ship first visited the town on Aug. 21. Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

Word that the U.S. House of Representatives has unanimously approved a measure that could allow large cruise ships to bypass Canada and visit Alaska this year spread quickly on Thursday, May 20, prompting kudos from state and federal officials and Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin.

H.R. 1318, the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, which would temporarily waive the Passenger Vessel Services Act, is expected to be signed into law by President Joe Biden. The Passenger Vessel services Act, requiring foreign-flagged cruise ships to stop in Canada before entering Alaska, would have kept thousands of potential visitors out of Alaska, due to Canada’s decision to ban large cruise ships until February of 2022.

If those cruise vessels bringing thousands of visitors to Alaska this summer start showing up, would this boost the tourism economy of Cordova?

“I sure hope it does,” Koplin said.

Koplin noted that cruise vessels large and small in past years have had a considerable impact on the city’s economy, with travelers aboard these vessels coming into town for the day, shopping at museums and cultural centers and buying a lot of art.

There were summers when Cordova merchants would sell $80,000 to $90,000 in art, but then when the pandemic hit early in 2019 and no cruise vessels stopped in Cordova those sales dropped to about $3,000, the mayor said.

Four smaller cruise ships were slated to come to Cordova in the summer of 2019, but because of the novel coronavirus pandemic none of them actually arrived.  With the pandemic impact ebbing, all that could change in the summer of 2021, with the return of independent travelers and those aboard cruise vessels.

The Alaska Legislature last month passed Senate Joint Resolution 9, urging federal officials to allow a summer cruise ship season in the state.

Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, hailed the House action as “a testament to the persistence of Alaskans who never gave up on saving our state’s tourism jobs.”

The state’s congressional delegation also praised the House action.
“I remain optimistic that this legislation will allow a level of safe cruising to resume this summer, giving communities some semblance of a tourist season,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

“2021 will not be the robust cruise ship season we have had in previous years, or was forecasted this year before the pandemic hit, but there will be ships and there will be people, and that is excellent for Alaska,” said Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, hailed the congressional action as “A great day for the state of Alaska and our communities in Southeast.”

“This bill solves one-half of the puzzle for the resumption of the 2021 Alaska cruise season, and now it is the CDC’s turn to act decisively and promulgate the guidance the industry needs to set sail for Alaska,” Young said.