By Gretchen Wehmhoff

As the non-cruise ship season comes to a close, Skagway Mayor Andrew Cremata is looking towards next year. How the 2021 season will look may depend on the coronavirus pandemic as well as how each port and member of the tourism industry plans to get back to business.  

At the July 2 assembly meeting, members discussed communications with the last cruise line still planning to come to Alaska.  American Cruise Lines (ACL) had at least three discussions with Borough Manager Brad Ryan. Ryan said the cruise line knew what it was going to do on their ships, but he couldn’t get a clear response as to how they would handle docking in Skagway with coronavirus cases on board. The assembly eventually let ACL know that they were not welcome to dock in Skagway this season.  

A few days later ACL, cancelled all of their Alaska trips, followed by Norwegian Cruise Lines who had a few ships scheduled for the fall, citing a rise in COVID-19 across the country.  

Cremata said that in order to make sure the interests of Skagway’s economy and public health are protected, plans for protocols and safety need to be ready before the ships arrive next summer. He believes a cooperative effort of cruise ship towns in Alaska could start the conversations between the ports, the industry and the government.

Cremata contacted different towns in Southeast to see if the administrations were interested in working out regional strategies. The idea being that Skagway’s (or any other town’s) procedures may not be effective if the protocols at docks along the way are not coordinated, especially in working with different cruise lines. 

While some cities weren’t ready or interested, Ketchikan agreed to start a working group with Skagway.

The cooperative group has met a few times on the project. Ketchikan is in full support of the task.

“This process has a lot of review and discussion going on,” said Ketchikan City Manager Karl Amylon. 

Amylon and Assistant City Manager, Lacey Simpson, represent Ketchikan in the two-town working group. Cremata is joined by Ryan and Cody Jennings, tourism director of the Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Cremata sees two main questions for the group.

“What do we want the cruise ship industry to do, and what would we like to see from the communities,” said Cremata. “How are we going to function together in 2021?”

The working group pulled together funds to hire Bermello Ajamil and Partners, Inc., a company Ketchikan has used for other projects.  The company will help the group gather information and prepare materials to assist in interacting with communities as well as the industry, and possibly government entities.  

The working group hopes to have a more formulated direction after hearing back from Bermello Ajamil and Partners, Inc.

“We are just at the beginning stages,” says Amylon.