Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Rachel Cahoon sings a jazz standard during a meet and greet Wednesday aboard Royal Caribbean Group’s Serenade of the Seas cruise ship, where Juneau tourism and other business leaders were invited to hear new CEO Jason Liberty discuss the state of the industry in Alaska this summer.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Rachel Cahoon sings a jazz standard during a meet and greet Wednesday aboard Royal Caribbean Group’s Serenade of the Seas cruise ship, where Juneau tourism and other business leaders were invited to hear new CEO Jason Liberty discuss the state of the industry in Alaska this summer.

Cruise CEO cherishes post-Covid comeback

New Royal Caribbean leader hosts meet-and-greet with Juneau tourism leaders as end of season nears

Rachel Cahoon is spending her first year as a singer aboard a cruise ship making weekly stops in Juneau and a person hearing how she’s spent her roughly 20 days in port would never suspect there was a COVID-19 pandemic if they didn’t know any better.

“We love the Rookery, we love the distillery, we love the food trucks where Deckhand Dave’s is,” she said in an interview after singing a farewell song to local tourism and other business leaders invited abroad for a meet and greet Wednesday. “We’ve done a lot of hikes around here,” including exploring most of the trails in the vicinity of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Cahoon’s “normal” summer as a cruise ship employee reflects a general return to business as usual highlighted by Jason Liberty, CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, which hosted the event aboard its 2,490-passenger Serenade of the Seas. He has worked for the company since 2005 and became its new CEO in January, presiding over a rebound after business literally dropped to zero at the height of the pandemic.

“There wasn’t any lesson in how to deal with that,” he told attendees. “Fortunately Alaska had the insight to get the ball rolling…(and) our business is pretty much back to normal.”

But Alaska is lagging behind the recovery of many other destinations, since “we are now operating in most places at 100% load factor.” In Alaska, he said in an interview after his remarks, the figure is about the same 70% other tourism officials say is occurring as the season nears its end.

Still, that occupancy is up from the 40-50% reported at the beginning of the summer and, as Liberty said in his remarks to the crowd, “I’m sure all of you have felt the ramp-up here.” He’s also optimistic Alaska’s ridership will continue increasing next summer.

“It’s going to be very much like 2019,” he said after addressing the audience.

The meet-and-greet comes as cruise line executives are doing their own get-togethers with local tour operators at their sites to evaluate offerings and possible contracts for next year. Cruise companies also just signed a memorandum of agreement with the city that features voluntary goals such as minimizing waste sent to the CBJ landfill, boosting partnerships with locally owned businesses and supporting CBJ’s grant application for dock electrification funds.

The agreement is both specific to Juneau and somewhat unique, said Preston Carnahan, Royal Caribbean’s destination development director. While issues related to cruise tourism are common in various global ports, he said mostly “we’re seeing dialogue” in addressing them.

Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty discusses Juneau’s tourism this summer during a meet-and-greet aboard the Serenade of the Seas cruise ship. He said ships in most ports are at 100% “load factor” this summer after dropping to zero at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in Alaska sailings are about 70% full as the end of the season nears.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Royal Caribbean Group CEO Jason Liberty discusses Juneau’s tourism this summer during a meet-and-greet aboard the Serenade of the Seas cruise ship. He said ships in most ports are at 100% “load factor” this summer after dropping to zero at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, but in Alaska sailings are about 70% full as the end of the season nears.

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