By Melinda Munson
COVID-19 foiled Skagway’s plan to make a plan when a much anticipated town hall scheduled to take place at the recreation center was transitioned to an online Microsoft Team meeting after three new coronavirus cases were announced Feb. 10.
The town hall, dubbed SOS or Save Our Skagway, was an opportunity to discuss how the borough could push past a second devastating tourist season.
“We’ve gone 15 months without cruise ships,” Cremata said. “And we are going to go … most likely another 15 to 16 months without cruise ships … We need to think about our survival as a community so that we make it to the 2022 season intact, with as many residents as possible, with as many jobs as possible…”
Around 213 viewers participated in the virtual meeting, where Mayor Andrew Cremata took questions and community members posted in the chat box.
A SOS banner was unveiled, but for many who only had access to sound, viewing the banner would have to wait.
When Transport Canada announced early February that Canadian waters would be closed to pleasure ships with more than 100 passengers for another year, a shudder went through the town of Skagway which normally sees approximately one million cruise passengers in a season.
“If we’re not a cruise ship destination in 2021, what are we?” Cremata asked.
With only a handful of small American cruise ships expected to dock in the northern Lynn Canal and the Canadian border closed, Skagway will have to depend on something that’s always been just a slice of their revenue — independent travellers.
The borough hopes to attract 20,000 non-cruise ship visitors this year, far below the typical tourist numbers but possibly enough to keep residents from leaving town permanently.
Cremata presented a three-tiered approach to helping the city limp through to May 2022, when summer travel is expected to normalize.
First, he will continue working with cruise ships. While large cruise ships are stymied, two smaller cruise ships have committed to visiting “The Gateway to the Klondike.”
Second, the Visitor Bureau will continue to market to independent tourists, a strategy it embraced before Canada announced it would not welcome large cruise ships.
And third, Cremata hopes Skagwegian will reach out to family, friends and former residents to encourage them to visit Skagway.
“It’s an all hands on deck opportunity,” he said. A visit to Skagway could literally save the city.
According to Cremata, the municipality is expecting only $230,000 from the federal government’s third bailout package. That’s a disappointing number for a city with the highest unemployment rate in the state and few prospects for new income avenues.
This summer will again look different for the gold rush town. Cremata stated that businesses need to decide on community-wide mask policies and seasonal workers who have been coming to Skagway for years won’t have easy employment as year-round residents struggle to earn income.
Jennifer Ozuzun, owner of Just Do You Salon, was optimistic, but forthright.
“If we don’t keep ourselves on the map, forget about 2022, and that’s just the realness of where we’re at. We have to make what we have right now work,” she said, encouraging business owners to agree on masking up and reaching out to independent travellers.
“If we don’t have some type of traffic through here, we’re going to have to leave,” she said.
A follow-up, in-person town hall will be announced at a later date.