Nome is beginning its busiest cruise season to date, and with that traffic comes a learning curve for local businesses and vendors.
Paul Kosto is the executive director for the Nome Chamber of Commerce. Right now, the Chamber doesn’t have data on where past cruise passengers have spent their time and money in Nome. But this season, Kosto is hoping for numbers.
“We do plan on, this fall, polling the businesses in town on how the cruise ship passengers impacted their business,” he said.
Kosto explains that cruise tours tend to fall into two different categories: a port of call and something called a “turn.” They have different economic potentials for the city.
At a port of call, a ship will stop, and the same passengers who got off the ship will get back on later in the day. Sometimes, they might have excursions that are booked directly with the cruise or with a local tour operator.
“And there’s other times where they’ve got a couple hours to just roam around town and go into our different eating establishments, and coffee shops, and gift stores,” Kosto said.
In a “turn,” a ship will dock and unload its passengers, who get directly on a chartered plane to go for another destination. Another group will get off that plane and go directly to the ship to head out to sea.
In those cases, Kosto said, “there’s not very much potential for the passengers to have any economic impact in Nome.”
Some businesses can take advantage of both. Robin Johnson is a partner in Northern Logistics, the parent company for Nome Discovery Tours. They offer a shuttle service between the port and the airport, and they also take cruise passengers on tours throughout Nome and the surrounding area. She says two ships are expected to make ports of call, while the rest are turns.
But like many in town, Nome Discovery Tours also faces the challenge of finding enough transportation. They’re making do with the help of local school buses.
“But more and more ships are coming in the fall now. They used to mostly come in June and July, and now they’re coming in August and September, and a lot of them are coming on school days.”
And, of course, busing students has to take priority.
The ships coming through Nome aren’t typically large compared to some that go through the southern part of the state. The largest boat this season was meant to be Holland America’s Maasdam with about 1,200 passengers, but due to weather, they weren’t able to make port. Right now, she expects their biggest traffic to come from the Roald Amundsen, a ship expected to have about 500 passengers looking to go through the Northwest Passage. Nome Discovery Tours hires anywhere from eight to 35 people to help them accommodate cruisers for a day.
The ships come from around the world, and Johnson says each brings a different kind of tourist.
“Some of them are smaller, high-end luxury adventure cruises,” she said. “There are a few ships that are German. That’s more of a retired clientele: they’re here for the education and to see the place. And then we have our French company where we get a real mix of people.”
Nome-based non-profit Kawerak has already looked to fill some of those entrepreneurial gaps. Barb Nickels leads their Community and Planning Development Program.
In 2017, they surveyed tourists, who told them they wanted more opportunity to buy Native art and meet the artists creating it. Now, on Fridays during cruise season, visitors and locals will see an array of vendors selling crafts under multi-colored tents in Anvil City Square. Artists who don’t live in Nome can get funding to come in for the day. Nickels says some vendors made as much as $400 to $2,000 over the six-week fair last year. That extra can go a long way in aiding a subsistence lifestyle.
Harbormaster Lucas Stotts already anticipates a possible 14 ships for next year. That means this season could be a valuable opportunity for Nome vendors to learn and prepare.
Alaska has a lot going on right now.
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