Cruise ship cancellation a ‘significant loss’ to Unalaska businesses

The decision to dock Celebrity Millennium in Sitka may have cost Unalaska businesses about $100,000, the visitors bureau estimates. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

The decision to dock the cruise ship Celebrity Millennium in Sitka may have cost Unalaska businesses about $100,000, the visitors bureau estimates. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

A 2,000-passenger cruise ship was supposed to dock in Unalaska today, instead it decided to go to Sitka.

Although Unalaska is known as America’s top fishing port, tourism — in particular the cruise ship industry — is a growing source of revenue especially for small businesses and non-profits.

Locals say they’ve been left scrambling, trying to figure out how they will make up tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue from the Celebrity Millennium’s canceled visit.

“It’s a big loss for that ship to not come here. It’s about $20,000 to $30,000 of lost revenue for us,” said Virginia Hatfield, executive director of the Museum of the Aleutians. “It’s important. This is what we use to put up exhibits, to buy merchandise for the store, and to pay salaries and health benefits for our staff.”

She estimates the money from the ships visit could have been used to create four or five small exhibits or one nicer traveling exhibit.

Hatfield doesn’t think it’s possible for the museum to make up the loss. It’s too significant.

“We already have what we hope to make from them built into our budget, so it’s just a loss,” she said.

The Museum of the Aleutians isn’t the only organization that was counting on increased traffic from the cruise ship.

Unalaska Port of Dutch Harbor Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Carlin Enlow estimates that the Celebrity Millennium would have distributed $100,000 across museums, restaurants, and stores.

“It’s not going to happen and that’s a bummer,” Enlow said. “The biggest thing that I hopes come out of it is that people realize what these business and organizations do for these cruise ships and how (Unalaska comes) to rely on it.”

Even though the fishing industry is the bread and butter of Unalaska, Enlow says trans pacific sailings are increasing and with the Northwest Passage opening up to cruise ships, the city is likely to see even more boats in the future.

So what caused the cancellation of the Celebrity Millennium’s port call? A lack of available facilities.

“We did have some options that if they could delay for some hours, they could come in at that point,” said ports director Peggy McLaughlin. “I don’t think that worked with what they were trying to accomplish and ultimately they made a decision to change that port of call.”

With the city dock under construction, regular cargo operations, and requirements from the vessel, there was only so much McLaughlin could do. This incident raises a big question about Unalaska’s future.

“If the city believes that the cruise ship industry is something that we want to diversity towards, what is the infrastructure that the city is prepared to commit to that?” McLaughlin said.

With more cruise ships expected next year, McLaughlin thinks putting numbers to the revenue generated by the vessels and understanding the benefits the industry brings to local business and non-profits is important.

While Hatfield understands why the ship cancelled, she says cruise ship profits are vital to the museum and help fund services that grants won’t cover.

“The more we make from these cruise ships, the less we have to ask from the city to help us get by,” Hatfield said.

Three more cruise ships are scheduled to stop in Unalaska this fall. Enlow says she’s heard rumors that two of them may be considering cancelling their port calls, too. If that happens, she estimates that could be another $100,000 loss for small business and non-profits across the city.

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