Wrangell is set to see an increase in calls from larger cruise ships this coming tourism season. More passengers are likely to come off those ships, potentially giving a boost to tour operators and retail stores.
For the 2017 season, Wrangell’s cruise ship dock is scheduled to see 61 calls total, only five more than 2016. But, the number of vessels with 100 or more passengers will jump by eight. Eleven of those ships have a lower-berth capacity of 400 or more and 10 can accommodate more than 600 passengers. If those ships are filled to capacity, about 2,700 additional tourists will visit Wrangell.
Some of the cruise lines, such as Seabourn which will make 10 calls, are high end cruises. Those ships have tour operators and business owners looking forward to the season.
Brenda Schwartz-Yeager, owner of Alaska Charters and Adventures, offers several boat excursions around Wrangell. Yeager is positive about the increase, but noted that more passengers doesn’t always equate to selling tours.
“A lot of the lift we have here for shore excursions are pretty high end experiences, like Anan and the river,” she explained. “Those are not inexpensive tours. You need a ship with those types of demographics that are willing and able to take those kind of tours.”
Passengers on Oceaania and Seabourn cruises are the customers Yeager said are likely to spend the most. Yeager has worked with several of the cruise companies for several years. She added that the possible uptick is also a good number for Wrangell to handle without too many tourists flooding town.
“I don’t think it has a negative effect on the town and for the other independent travelers. It’s a nice potential upswing for downtown retailers and excursion providers,” said Yeager.
More cruise ship travelers could mean additional revenue for the borough as well. About 3,500 of the potential visitors are taxable through the state’s cruise ship passenger vessel tax. The state distributes a portion of those funds back to communities that vessels dock at.
Borough Finance Manager Lee Burgess explains that the state has formulas, dictating how much each community receives each year. Burgess said returns to the borough vary from about $15,000 to $40,000 annually. That money is required to be spent to benefit the local tourism industry. Burgess added that calculating a revenue bump would be difficult, but said there other direct benefits.
“The other manner in which it would benefit the community, if we saw an increase in tourism, would be directly the dockage fees for cruise ships coming into town,” said Burgess. “So the port would charge those, but most of all, the sales tax revenue that’s derived from increased tour traffic.“
Retail store owner Jeff Angerman recently returned from a trip to buy merchandise such as printed tee-shirts with images of Alaska on them. Angerman said he was aware of the bump in larger ships on his trip.
“So I had that in mind when I was doing my buying. I did do some higher end merchandise. Certainly it’s an increase in cruise ship visitor travel to Wrangell and we’re going to be prepared for it,” said Angerman.
He noted that he’s seen an uptick in tourism traffic over the past few years, but is particularly excited for this year’s larger ships.
“The bigger ships have the most impact as far as my business. We have a big Sunday in July where we have two ships in at the same time, and one of them is staying until 11 p.m.,” Angerman noted with excitement. “I don’t know that I will stay open that late, but certainly we’ll have a full day in. I’ll have extra employees working on a day like that.”
The first ship, the Wilderness Adventurer, is scheduled to dock April 25.