Alaska will be undertaking an unprecedented effort to aid the state’s ailing tourism industry, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Friday, including money to local businesses and a marketing campaign to attract tourists.
Flanked by state and local lawmakers and business representatives in the Wings Airways hangar in Juneau, Dunleavy said further details of the plan will be coming next week, but told Alaskans he will do everything in his power to help tourism in the state.
Central to helping the tourism industry is getting cruise ships back to Alaska, Dunleavy said at the conference, and for that reason, he would be asking the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to revise its conditional sail order and allow ships to sail again.
On Thursday, the governor sent a letter to the White House asking for federal action allowing the resumption of cruises, and Friday said the state’s low coronavirus numbers had shown Alaska was able to manage the pandemic.
“What I’m asking the CDC is, give us the opportunity to prove that we know what we’re doing,” Dunleavy said.
The mining and fishing industries had continued throughout the pandemic largely without incident, he said, and Alaska had some of the highest rates of vaccination in the state.
There have been multiple COVID-19 clusters associated with the seafood and mining industries during the pandemic. They are not the only industries to be associated with clusters of cases.
“The worst of this is behind us, we know what we’re doing,” Dunleavy said. “We appreciated the advice, from the CDC, but that’s all it should be in my opinion.”
At the conference Dunleavy signed a joint resolution passed by the Alaska State Legislature urging Congress and the president to take actions to allow cruises to Alaska. Not only has the CDC put a ban on cruising, but the Canadian government has closed its waters to ships carrying 100 passengers or more, causing an additional problem for Alaska. U.S. law requires certain vessels to stop in Canada before arriving in the state, and Alaskan officials are looking for exemptions either through Congress or the president.
The resolution urges Congress to quickly consider bills introduced by Alaska’s congressional delegation and asks President Joe Biden to use whatever authority available to him to temporarily waive the law. State Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, spoke at Friday’s event and thanked the governor for focusing on the issue.
In addition to Keihl, Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, and Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, were present as were Reps. Andi Story, D-Juneau, and Tom McKay, R-Anchorage.
Attached to the letter to the White House was a report detailing the extent the loss of a cruise ship season has on the broader Alaskan economy.
Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon spoke at the event, saying the loss of a cruise ship season and the auxilary industries accounted for about a $26 million hit to Juneau’s annual budget.
“In a nutshell, it means 10 million dollars to our sales tax,” Weldon said.
When cruise ships don’t come to Juneau she said, “the collateral businesses damage is devastating,” adding she was hard-pressed to think of a local business not impacted by the cruise ship industry.
Business owners and representatives from the cruise ship industry spoke at the conference as well, and while the exact details of what the tourism recovery plan would look like, Dunleavy said he wanted to use every tool available, including legal action.
The state of Florida has filed suit against the CDC for the cruise ban and Dunleavy said at the conference his administration is considering joining the lawsuit. Much of the funding for the effort would come from the American Recovery Act, the stimulus package recently passed by Congress, but more details will be available next week, Dunleavy said.
“Through proper planning and execution Alaska already demonstrated we can bring people in and do it right,” he said. “Start booking now.”