At Thursday’s assembly meeting in Skagway, Mayor Andrew Cremata opened discussion of a potential cap on cruise ship passengers and when such a cap should be presented to voters. While some participants felt discussing the idea could be beneficial, others worried it could send the wrong message to the cruise ship industry.
A cap would limit the number of passengers that could visit on a daily basis, which supporters say would preserve the natural experience of visiting remote Alaska. Mayor Cremata’s view is that discussing the cap now, without cruise ships on the horizon, can allow time for the industry to adjust to any decision made.
“So that we’re not having a discussion right before a season where we’re expecting 1.3 million passengers, we’re having it during a season that is not going to happen,” Cremata said.
Skagway resident Bruce Schindler acknowledged that too much traffic would diminish the visitors experience Skagway, but he wonders if the cap is the right solution.
“Is the answer gonna be limiting the amount of people that come to town, or is the answer going to be increasing the efficiency of this town to handle these people?” he asked.
Local business owner Mike Healy said a cap may be a good idea, but without data-driven research to determine what that number should be, any number chosen would be arbitrary.
“There is such as thing as too many cruise ship passengers in Skagway, and I think everyone can agree with that. However, choosing that number is pretty arbitrary without some data to back it up,” Healy said.
Not everyone agreed that this is the right time to discuss limiting future visitors. Councilman Orion Hanson firmly objected to even discussing sending a passenger cap ballot measure to the voters given the uncertainty of future cruise ship traffic.
“I think talking about it is one thing,” he said. ” Suggesting that we’re going to send this to a ballot is sending a very, very negative message to our main industry, and it’s tourism, and it’s cruise ships.”
Cremata’s response acknowledged that a ballot measure this fall is unlikely but supported discussing the topic. Others noted that Skagway is not the only community having this discussion, as the return of cruise ship traffic is on the minds of many port towns, not limited to Southeast Alaska.