By Gretchen Wehmhoff

Princess Cruises’ Medallion program won’t be rolled out in Skagway in the near future and a large group of local merchants want to make sure it stays that way.

The program, represented by a quarter-sized digital medallion worn by the client, allows passengers to access their rooms, pay for on board purchases, check in when returning to the ship after visiting a port, track traveling companions on the ship, get directions on the ship and access wi-fi and activities on board. It also keeps track of a customer’s on board purchases.

Local business owners sent a letter to Mayor Andrew Cremata urging him to communicate with the cruise industry that they were opposed to any system such as the Medallion program coming to Skagway. Sixty-seven people representing local businesses signed the protest.

Corrington’s Mickie Lucchetti kept the merchant marketing materials she received in 2019 from Princess. The documents list a 17.99% service fee for port merchants. Fees are slightly different for food and beverage purchases.

Concerns stem from the 17.99% service fee that participating merchants would be charged. From that fee, 7% would go back to the passenger as on board credit. The brochure says retailers  would receive payment, less the 17.99% service fee, as soon as within 24 hours. It is unclear if merchants would also pay sales tax on the entire transaction. 

Carol Bourcy of Richters helped write the letter. She shared concerns from locals suggesting that those who do not sign up with the program will be at a disadvantage, especially if passengers decide to only use their medallion to pay while at port. Bourcy highlighted the idea that the cruise line would be able to track their passengers’ shopping habits and that could have a negative impact on local business.

Earlier this year, the Skagway Chamber forwarded an email to members with a series of attachments, mostly brochures and flyers marketing the program to potential Princess Cruise passengers. None of the flyers or brochures mentioned leaving regular forms of payment on the ship when disembarking at a port town. However, a video linked at the bottom of the email suggests that passengers “can now make purchases in favorite ports like Cabo San Lucas and earn seven percent on Medallion rewards on board credit.”

The host then makes the suggestion that combining a 5% cash back credit card with the 7% credit is a good deal.

Towards the end of the two-minute video the host says, “leave your wallet in your cabin safe and use your ocean medallion to make purchases with added security with medallion pay merchants, and it’s safe.” The accompanying video shows passengers shopping in port stores.

It is this last statement that coincides with local Skagway businesses’ concerns.

Alaska Fairytales owner Billi Clem testified at the June 16 assembly meeting that she had conversations with a Princess passenger that set off alarms. 

Clem said she visited with the tourist outside the Skaguay News Depot who planned on using her Medallion to purchase books. Clem informed the tourist that the Medallion wasn’t used in most local stores.   

“She said to me, ‘Well, all the shops in this town are owned by Princess.’ And I said, No, they’re not. We are a local town. And we are not owned by the cruise ships. And she said, ‘Well, they told us not to bring cash into this town because it was dangerous in Alaska, to carry credit cards and cash.’ Let me repeat that. She said it was dangerous in Alaska – to carry cash and credit cards in Alaska. And that’s what they told her on this ship,” Clem said.

Tina Cyr of Inspired Arts nearly lost an $80 sale when a passenger expected to pay with the Medallion. When Cyr let her know she wasn’t set up for the program, Cyr said the passenger told her, “Oh, I’m so used to using it for everything on the ship. I didn’t even bring my wallet.” Fortunately, the woman’s husband used his Apple Watch to pay for the purchase.

“So, I didn’t lose the sale, but it was kind of an awareness thing,” Cyr said.

Cyr downloaded the Medallion app to see what it showed for Skagway. She saw three businesses displayed as Medallion merchants, two of which were jewelry stores.

 Cyr said she saw Ketchian had 12 businesses marked as participating merchants.

Assemblymember Deb Potter relayed a conversation from a lunch meeting with Cremata, Skagway officials and representatives from Holland America and Princess regarding the Medallion program.

“It’s at a minimum, coming off of two years of a devastated economy, tone deaf – and it’s just not compatible with the independent spirit and nature and character of Skagway. And we made that very, very clear. And I feel like they heard us,” Potter said.

Cremata followed up 

“And you remember what he [the representative] said? He said, I remember because I took a note of it. And I wrote it down. He said that the idea was to make a form of payment for all of Southeast Alaska,” Cremata said. 

Assemblymember Orion Hanson was disturbed by Clem’s testimony.

“[Princess] saying that Skagway is not a safe place to bring your cash or credit cards is an appalling statement. I’m going to say that twice. If they are saying that on the cruise ships, shame on you. And I hope you hear me. This is one of the safest places in the world to come and visit. I wouldn’t live here year round if I didn’t feel that way,” Hanson said.

Not all Princess passengers expected to use the Medallion in town. Visitor Michail Gilberstadt said he wore his medallions specifically to get back on the ship — not to use for purchases at local shops. 

“Yeah, we were never told that we could use it in town at just any merchant,” he said.

Beth Holli didn’t recall any instruction to leave cash, ID or credit cards on the ship. 

“No, it wasn’t in print, TV or anything. No announcements,” Holli said. “We need it to get back on the ship.”

Skagway Tourism Director Jaime Bricker also met with the Princess representatives who were in town. She said they mentioned hearing complaints similar to those mentioned by Clem “and they were trying to squash that. They didn’t want that messaging going out,” Bricker said.

Bricker said the reps said they were concerned “especially because it’s unsafe for people to get off the cruise ship without ID and forms of payment.” 

Municipal Manager Brad Ryan says that the city doesn’t have a relationship with Princess in regards to the Medallion program.

“It would be fantastic if they did – so we could be educated on it,” Ryan said.

Ryan said businesses are reaching out to the muni and it would be nice if they had answers.

Calls and emails to Princess and Holland America officials were unanswered by deadline. 

Cremata reported that there are no plans this year for a rollout of the program in Skagway. He is in continued talks with Princess officials.

“Until I see a press release from Princess Holland America saying very clearly that they have no intent of rolling this out here and in the rest of Southeast Alaska, I’m skeptical,” Cremata said.

Melinda Munson contributed to this story.