As the summer tourism season winds down, and Haines gets ready to button-up for the winter, tourism director Leslie Ross is already looking ahead to next summer. The final numbers aren’t in yet on how Haines did overall, but Ross says all signs point to a larger number of visitors. The plan for 2017 involves visits from bigger cruise ships, bringing in even more guests.
“One of the biggest changes is next year, we have several new, large cruise ships coming in,” Ross says.
Haines will hit the ground running next May in a ‘this-is-not-a-drill’ kind of way. Ross says starting in mid-May, the Port Chilkoot dock will see its three biggest ships of the year back, to back, to back.
“So, there won’t be any kind of slow start, everyone needs to be ready to go.”
Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Sea, with its more than 2,500 passengers and 900 crew members, will make its only appearance in Haines on May 22. The next day, Princess Cruises’ Grand Princess, with a capacity of 2,600 passengers and 1,100 crew members, will make the first of three appearances. The Zaandam, from Holland America, will follow the two bigger ships in its usual Wednesday slot.
There are a few new, smaller and mid-sized ships on the roster as well, which will increase cruise passengers by about 10,000 people. This year, about 38,500 cruise folks arrived in Haines, down by a few thousand from the 2015 season.
Ross attributes the bigger ships to a few different things:
“For the large ships, it’s correlated with the initiative that we’re giving 50 percent off the docking fees, and we marketed pretty heavily going down to Miami and Seattle,” Ross says. “I had a pretty big promotion this year, not just the 50 percent initiative, but also really promoting ourselves as the different port, with a lot of arts and culture focus, the focus that you get an exclusive experience in Haines without having four ships in port.”
The 50 percent discount in docking fees in 2017 doesn’t add up to that much – around $1,500 per visit – but, Ross says, even the big cruise lines are watching their bottom line. And the borough can potentially make it up in sales tax revenue from the additional people in town.
Ross says the Jilkaat Kwaan Cultural Heritage Center in Klukwan is getting rave reviews from visitors. The center opened this spring after decades in the making.
“It’s a cliché word to say authentic, but most people say that when they look at Haines. They say ‘This is an authentic experience in authentic Alaska.’ They love that they’re the only ship in port and that they’re not overrun with trinket stores, and jewelry stores. They feel like they’re really getting to see the people of Haines.”
Ross says her goal is always to draw more visitors to Haines, without crossing the line and losing that authenticity. She says a bolstered social media presence, and strategically-placed print ads will hopefully continue to draw more tourists.