Canada on Friday announced that it’s prohibiting large passenger vessels from operating in Canadian waters until Oct. 31, a decision that effectively closes the door on a potential 2020 large ship cruise season in Alaska.
Ketchikan now is all but guaranteed a quiet summer, the likes of which the community hasn’t seen in decades.
Since late April, when the first ships had been scheduled to arrive, we’ve been growing accustomed to not sharing local streets, sidewalks, trails and waters with guests from around the world. Our downtown skyline no longer evolves with the daily coming and going of very large vessels. The busy energy of a multiple cruise ship day is absent.
There have been recent days — such as this past Saturday when the weather is perfect and everyone you know seems to be out and about — that having the “town to ourselves” is alluring. It’s a good place to be.
The same things that locals enjoy about Ketchikan also have proven capable of attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to these shores on an annual basis. Over time, Ketchikan’s entrepreneurial spirit has worked to accommodate these visitors. Our hospitality is as world class as the destination.
It’s no surprise, then, that the visitor industry became a central component of the Ketchikan economy. We now depend on visitors and the revenue they bring to maintain the community at the economic and service levels we enjoyed coming in to 2020. It’s not the only source of new revenue here — we continue to be fortunate in having commercial fisheries, for example, but tourism has been the most substantial in recent years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed that with a direct hit to the types of sea and air travel that has benefited Ketchikan most. Now we know that the 2020 cruise ship season, except for the potential of a few smaller ships, won’t be happening. We’ve gone from anticipating more than 1.2 million cruise ship visitors, in addition to crew members, to the potential of a relative handful.
There’s no way to sugarcoat the likely economic effect. This will hurt, and no one knows how long it will take for the visitor industry to ramp back up.
But as a Ketchikan City Council member said at a recent council meeting, we’ve seen this before. Ketchikan has weathered downturns in mining, fishing and the timber industry. The pulp mill closure in 1997 is still fresh in many people’s minds as a wrenching experience for many of the people involved in that industry. Another memory of that time is how people tried to look after each other, and help out where and how they could. It wasn’t easy; the community emerged smaller but resilient. It pursued the hand it was dealt with great energy, and had success in becoming a world-class destination.
We’re still stunned at the rapid changes wrought by the novel coronavirus in recent weeks. We don’t know what the immediate or long-term futures hold. Some things, like the appearance of a pandemic and a decision made in Canada, we cannot control
What we can control is our reaction, and our day-to-day efforts to see our community through. Look around. The people you see are your neighbors, friends and fellow Ketchikan residents. The open stores, eateries, service providers and other entities you see are here for you. All of us are in some way depending on each other to continue on.
Yes, we have the place mostly to ourselves at the moment. Let’s work to make the best of the circumstances.