The Port Chilkoot Dock in Haines is the cheapest place in Southeast to dock a cruise ship. It’s also the only community looking at waiving those fees. The idea is to extend a gesture to the cruise ship companies in hopes of getting more ships to come here and boost sales tax revenue.
That idea was presented at Tuesday’s assembly meeting.
“What I would like to do, and what we’re working on, is to have a good strong proposal to go forward with the ships,” said Haines Borough tourism director Leslie Ross.
Ross and economic development director Bill Mandeville have been working on the proposal along with the Tourism Advisory Board. Mandeville suggests waiving docking fees would entice more ships to come here and in turn, provide an infusion of sale tax revenue.
By borough estimates, each cruise visitor that walks off the Port Chilkoot Dock will generate around $5 in sales tax revenue for Haines this year. About 40,000 passengers are expected in 2015.
Ross says not only would she have a better chance of luring more ships here with waiver program, but she would hope to have them come more consistently like weekly, instead of monthly.
“To have just a few ships coming in more like they are this year, it doesn’t allow tour operators to expand when you just have one ship in steadily a week,” Ross said. “But when you have more than that we can see business expand, we can see businesses staying open more, retail, restaurants as well and tour operators.”
The advisory board along with Ross and Mandeville came up with some options for a waiver program. One would waive the entire $3,000 docking fee for a first time ship, for the first year. They could then get a percentage of that waived if they commit to coming in the future.
Mandeville told the assembly time is of the essence in getting a waiver program in place. Cruise companies set their itineraries years out. If the assembly doesn’t approve a waiver program by the end of July, it might not make a difference until the 2018 or 2019 cruise season.
Ross says the advisory board has been discussing a waiver program since last June.
Along with a document outlining the options for a waiver program, Mandeville at Tuesday’s meeting suggested a public participation plan. He recommended the commerce committee hold two meetings where the public can weigh in on the idea. Then the assembly would have to hold two more public hearings before finalizing a plan.
One commerce committee is set for Tuesday at 4 p.m.
Assemblyman Ron Jackson said the assembly might receive more feedback on the proposal than they’re anticipating.
“I think this has the potential to need a little more public involvement than you might things,” Jackson said. “Giving away dollars to a cruise ship company is controversial. I think the goal is to get more cruise ships and I think there a lot of different ways to approach that.”
Ross says the borough had successful waiver programs before and they have worked. Those include a time when the borough offered 50 percent off waivers to all ships. Two ships committed to return a total of twice each this year when offered a full waiver. The Princess and Infinity will dock here again this summer with no fees, although the Infinity has since cancelled one of those dockings.
According to a report from 2012 by Haines Harbormaster Phil Benner, Haines has the lowest moorage rates of any Southeast community. From his research, and in double checking those figures with most of the communities, Haines and Wrangell are the only communities with cruise ship docking fees that come to less than $10,000 for an average ship. For example, Haines charges about $2,400 for an 800 foot vessel with 1,500 passengers. Wrangell charges about $3,500 for the same ship. Kodiak, Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway would each charge between $12 and $18,000 dollars for that ship.
According Lalanya Downs at the Alaska Cruise Association, no other Alaska port community currently offers docking waivers to cruise ships.
We asked several cruise companies about their views on waivers and if such an offer encourage them to add Haines to their itineraries. We didn’t get response from any of the companies by this newscast.