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1.17M cruise ship passengers in 2019: Projection of 1.21M passengers falls short due to 9 port of call cancellations

Daily News Staff Writer

This year was another record-breaking tourism season for Ketchikan, and it would have been even higher if there were fewer port-of-call cancellations.

According to City of Ketchikan data released last week, a record 1.17 million cruise ship passengers arrived at the docks in Ketchikan in 2019. This figure is based on the number of tourists who paid the $7 passenger wharfage fee.

The city's initial projection of 1.21 million passengers fell short due in part to nine port-of-call cancellations.

The reasons for the cancellations vary, but were mostly attributed to poor weather conditions or cruise ship maintenance.

Port and Harbors Director Steve Corporon said that nine cancellations seems high. Typically, it has been less than three a year over the past few years. Going back further Corporon added that sometimes the city has gone an entire year without cancellations.

In 2018 there were two cancellations, according to City of Ketchikan Finance Director Bob Newell.

Corporon said pilots on the larger Norwegian Cruise Line ships are nervous about going through the Tongass Narrows when winds are nearing 25 knots.

He said engineers say the city shouldn’t attempt to dock the larger, neo-panamax cruise ships at Berth 3 when the winds are above 25 knots.

Bad weather outside of Ketchikan also has delayed cruise ships.

Corporon recalled an instance this summer in which the Norwegian Bliss had scheduled  a six-hour stop in Ketchikan, but it was several hours late due to poor weather as it came from Skagway. The Celebrity Eclipse was slated for the berth following the Bliss, and so the Bliss made a decision not to stop in Ketchikan.

Patti Mackey, president and CEO of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, agrees that this is a record year. The bureau estimated the number of tourists slightly higher at 1,188,915, which includes cruise ship passengers that travel as cruise ship employee guests and are not charged a wharfage fee.

The number does not include tourists that visit via ferry and air because those numbers are still being calculated, according to Mackey.

In total, 46 ships called on Ketchikan about 570 times this cruise ship season. This year also was probably a record number of ships visiting Ketchikan for the first time, according to Mackey. She tallied eight official inaugural cruise ship visits over the summer.

While revenue numbers and sales tax are still being calculated, Mackey is optimistic they were good. She noted the new tours and businesses catering to the tourists.

She said that Hump Island Oysters and Bonfire Bay Tour Company teamed up to provide an oyster farm tour, the first of its kind that she knows of. She added that the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary expanded its eagle facility, providing an area for them to fly. She mentioned My Alaska Tours started operating this year with a culinary tour and a pub crawl.

She also highlighted the partnership of the Cape Fox Corporation with the U.S. Forest Service to provide more programming and the Southeast Discovery Center adding dance performances.

For next year, she mentioned Allen Marine Tours is exploring options for tours out to Danger Island.

For the 2020 cruise ship season, the city projects between 1.19 million and 1.26 million cruise ship passengers will come to Ketchikan.