Will the Costa wreck hurt Alaska’s cruise industry?

The Costa Concordia partially submerged after hitting a reef. Photo by Roberto Vongher/Wikimedia Commons.

You’ve probably heard that cruise-ship bookings took a dive after the Costa Concordia hit a reef and partially sunk. But are travelers avoiding cruising or just delaying ticket purchases? And what does it mean for Alaska tourism?

The Carnival Corporation is the Costa Concordia’s owner. Carnival and its subsidiary lines will sail about 11 ships through Alaska waters this summer.

The corporation this month reported an almost 15-percent drop in worldwide bookings after the vessel struck a reef off Italy. The January 13th incident killed at least 30 people and badly damaged the ship.

But how will this tragedy halfway around the world affect cruise ship traffic here?

“I think Alaska is going to have a very good year,” says Stuart Chiron, a Miami-based industry analyst and cruise broker. He operates a website called “The Cruise Guy” that follows industry developments around the world.

Chiron says the sales dip won’t last – and may not hurt Alaska at all.

“There’s a lot of people who are on a wait-and-see type of scenario. But bookings as of now are looking very strong for Alaska. And there could be definitely some pickup if there are any hiccups on the international front, in the Middle East as well as in the Mediterranean,” he says.

(Read about the Prinsendam, which burned and sunk in the Gulf of Alaska. )

(Read about more recent cruise ship groundings and sinkings.)

Past crises, such as the 9/11 attacks, inspired American and Canadian cruisers to traveler closer to home.

Alaska Cruise Association President John Binkley says that might be the case this time too.

The Sapphire Princess docks in Ketchikan. Photo by Ed Schoenfeld.

“There could be a feeling by the consumer that cruises in the U.S. that are under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard are inherently more safe than those abroad. I don’t know that but there’s that possibility,” Binkley says.

Alaska’s cruise-ship capacity will grow to about 950,000 passengers in the upcoming season. And even if bookings drop, he says the lines know how to bring them back up again.

“If they have to, then they will just discount the pricing until they fill those berths. So it shouldn’t have an effect on the overall number of people coming up to Alaska on cruise ships. It could have an effect, though, on the amount of earnings that the companies get from those different berths coming up to Alaska,” he says.

When berths are cheap, the lines still make money by selling drinks, spa time and shore-based excursions.

Industry analyst Chiron says his information shows the bookings drop is largely over. In the meantime, lines such as Carnival and Princess are offering attractive deals highlighting other destinations.

“I can tell you that bookings did pick up very nicely. And we’ve also seen cruise lines begin to push Europe, Alaska and Caribbean summer sailings,” he says.

But the shipwreck’s timing could not have been worse. Binkley says many people book Alaska cruises in January or February.

Watch a video of the partially sunken Costa Concordia from RT media.

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