With Holland America Line putting bigger ships on the Southeast Alaska run and other lines adding Sitka stops, the town can expect a 20 percent increase in cruise ship visitors next year, said Chris McGraw, manager of the Old Sitka dock.
McGraw said he heard a few weeks ago that the M/V Amsterdam will be replaced on some runs by the larger Oosterdam, reported the Daily Sitka Sentinel.
“It’s a good thing for Sitka, and it’s a large ship – 2,000 passengers,” he said.
The news is not only good for his company but for other tourist-related businesses, including shops, tour companies and enterprises that relate directly to the cruise industry. Some of them, including the McGraw-operated buses from the dock to town, have had a hard time filling positions because the schedule has been sporadic.
“It will be easier to get employees,” McGraw said.
Most of the large cruise ships that come to Sitka are operated by Holland America, and they all tie up at the Old Sitka Dock unless another ship is there.
McGraw said Celebrity Cruises will make six stops in Sitka next summer, up from two. Seabourn Cruise Line is also adding Sitka as a port visit.
The main change that Sitkans may notice is more cruise ships stops on Friday.
The final visitor numbers are still coming in, said Fred Reeder, port director for Cruise Line Agencies, but he estimated there were 125,000 to 130,000 visitors this year. The projected 25,000 increase next year will mean a total of 150,000 to 155,000.
“That’s good news for Sitka,” Reeder said. He said the additional passengers are from larger ships replacing smaller ones.
“The Eurodam replaces the Westerdam on Wednesdays, adding 200 passengers for 20 visits, and the Oosterdam is going to take the place of the Amsterdam on Thursdays, and the Amsterdam takes the place of the Maasdam every other Friday, adding 400 people per week,” Reeder said. Some other ships will make one stop, and Celebrity will make more calls in Sitka, he said.
“That’s good, too,” he said.
McGraw said he doesn’t know why Sitka is becoming more popular, with a 70 percent increase in cruise visitors since the low of about just under 90,000 in 2014. There were 115,000 in 2015.
Numbers are still far below the peak of 290,000 in 2008, but McGraw was pleased to see the steady climb in recent years.
He noted that cruise passengers themselves rate Sitka as an appealing destination. The online rating site Cruise Critic ranked Sitka as the Number 2 destination in Alaska after Glacier Bay, McGraw said.
Reeder attributed the increase to a “strong Alaska market.” ”Alaska’s selling well,” he said. He also said unrest in the world may be influencing Americans to stay closer to home.
City Administrator Mark Gorman said McGraw deserves credit for his concerted efforts over the past four years to bring more business to his dock, and Sitka. “They’re now coming to fruition,” he said.
Reeder said even with the increase in ships, there should be no more than one large cruise ship per day for most of the season.
“For the community, they’ll hardly notice the difference as far as traffic, but there aren’t as many days without a ship, so I think that’s good,” he said.
McGraw said his fourth season with cruise ships at the privately owned dock went well, and that he’s pleased to see the upward tick in business each year. Reeder said he has noted an increase in cruise line-related business related to the dock, which makes it easier to load supplies.
“Today we put 100 pounds of bacon from one of the stores here on there,” he said, “Four hundred or 500 bags of bagels – what we’ve sold is vastly different than in the past.”
Sherry Aitken, director of tourism for Visit Sitka-Chamber of Commerce, was pleased with the news:
“The Chamber of Commerce and Visit Sitka is thrilled with any increase in visitors to Sitka,” she said. “We know how important having a having a varied economy can be to a town of our size, and were happy Sitka is top of mind for cruise companies as they make their deployment decisions.”
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