Haines moved one step closer to approving a cruise ship docking waiver incentive Thursday. With only three out of 11 members present, a joint Tourism Advisory Board – Commerce Committee voted to recommend a 50 percent off docking fee waiver to the borough assembly.
Haines’ government is looking to strengthen its courtship with cruise lines by giving them a discounted docking rate. Advocates say the money made in sales tax would make up for funds lost from waiving fees.
Right now, cruise ships pay roughly $3,000 to dock in Haines. That’s less than any other Southeast port community. Borough Tourism Director Leslie Ross says it’s an effective part of marketing Haines. This summer, two mega-ships – the Golden Princess and Celebrity Infinity – docked in Haines, Ross says, because of an incentive that waived their docking fees.
Tourism board member Sean Gaffney noted that those two ships recently had port calls in Haines. The Infinity has one more later this summer.
“We had good fortune in the last week and a half to have two ships that were a part of that previous [waiver incentive] effort,” Gaffney said. “And they both sold roughly 1,200 tours in our community. So it’s really a good benchmark to look at how effective or not effective this program is.”
The 1,200 tours sold brought in about $83,000 in revenue, assemblyman George Campbell said. That comes out to roughly $4,000 in sales tax. And that’s just looking at tour operators, not other businesses. One member of the public asked for more information on how cruise ships impact other businesses’ sales.
“That’s information we want, we just haven’t been able to get it and I think there’s a trust issue there,” said Borough Manager Dave Sosa.
Sosa says businesses seem hesitant to open their books for the government to have a peek.
Ross and former Community and Economic Development Director Bill Mandeville presented fee waiver options to the assembly in recent weeks. The Tourism Advisory Board decided on the one they like best. It waives 50 percent of the docking fee – about $1,500 – for all cruise ships during a three-year time period. Gaffney says it’s the ‘cleanest’ and ‘simplest’ proposal.
Borough representatives said money from the community and economic development fund would make up that $1,500 in docking expenses to the harbor department.
Resident Debra Schnabel said if this incentive goes forward, it should be aimed at sustainability.
“Make sure that it’s a commitment,” she said. “It’s not just a program where somebody can come to the buffet table and take what they want and go away.”
On the note of sustainability, artist and business owner Tresham Gregg said Haines needs to develop more tourist-targeted attractions in order to have consistent cruise ship traffic.
“I think without a concerted effort by the community to become more of what the cruise ships are looking for, we may not be really accomplishing our goal,” Gregg said.
Mayor Jan Hill said with all the efforts to make Haines a cruise ship destination, she hopes the town’s authenticity remains intact.
“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that one of the things that Haines offers that some of the other ports don’t offer is Haines: a real living, working Alaska town,” Hill said.
Gaffney was the only Tourism Advisory Board member present at the meeting. TAB chair Karen Hess said Campbell told her they just needed a representative to answer questions from the public at the joint meeting.
The three TAB and Commerce Committee members present at the meeting voted to present a 50 percent waiver to the assembly. The assembly will likely vote on that resolution at their meeting on June 23rd. After that, it’s up to borough staff to work out the details of the incentive. One of the borough employees who was most involved in the incentive, Bill Mandeville, resigned from his job recently.
If the assembly approves the incentive, Ross will be able to use it as a selling point in her courting of cruise ships for the summer of 2017.