Skagway is starting to prepare for its annual influx of visitors and seasonal workers as the summer approaches.
“We’ll have over a million people visiting Skagway this summer,” said Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau information specialist Wendy Anderson. “We’re a busy place.”
About 800,000 of those people will be cruise ship passengers. 30 ships are scheduled to visit Skagway more than 400 times throughout the summer. The biggest of those is a new ship to Skagway – the Ruby Princess – which has a capacity for 3,082 passengers.
Skagway has dock space for four large cruise ships. The ferry dock is sometimes used for smaller ones.
“The week has a flow to it,” Anderson said. “It’ll start out slow on a Sunday, and slowly build to — we peak on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those are the days when we have 9,000, 10,000 people coming off the ships. And then it slows down as you head to Saturday. Generally on Saturdays we’ll have less than 3,000 people.”
The projected number of cruise ships and visitors for the summer is on par with the last two years. The summer visitor numbers in Skagway first topped one million in 2002. Since then, the busiest years were 2007 and 2013.
Last year, almost 1.1 million people visited Skagway’s Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. That set a record – it was the first time an Alaska park had over 1 million visitors.
There will also be hundreds of people coming into town to work in the seasonal retail shops, restaurants and tour companies.
“We have a lot of what we call our summer family that comes back,” Anderson said. “[They’re] friends that go other places to work or live on that off-season. So it’s kind of a family reunion when the season comes back.”
A few new businesses are setting up shop in Skagway this summer. Alaska Art Colony will open an art co-op between 5th and 6th streets, fry bread place Klondike Dough Boy will open on 3rd street, and Sugar Mamas cupcake shop is opening a second location on Broadway.
The CVB is working on a few projects to make the tourism season run more smoothly. One is improving signage on the hiking trails.
“In part because currently when the fire department gets emergency calls on the trails, people don’t have a reference of where they are on the trail to provide information for first responders,” Anderson said.
The trails will have better sign markers and the trail maps are getting an update. The CVB is also creating welcome packets for seasonal businesses.
“A lot of times when people first come to town, it’s a small town and [they think] ‘What do I do when I get to Skagway?'” Anderson said. “Well, I’d like to help encourage summer worker participation in both community events and let them know that Skagway is a place where they can get involved.”
A big change for the CVB itself is also in the works. Long-time tourism director Buckwheat Donahue is retiring mid-April. So this summer, a new person will take the reins of Skagway’s most lucrative industry.
The first cruise ship, the Solstice, will dock in Skagway May 5. The last cruise ship will be the Norwegian Sun on September 24.