The last cruise ship of the season left Juneau’s docks on Tuesday.
The final tally of passengers who came through Juneau this year hasn’t been released yet, but Cruise Lines International Association is projecting it to be 1.15 million. They haven’t counted people who came in October yet, which is why the number is still a projection.
The estimate represents about 74% of the capacity for all the ships that sailed to Juneau this year.
Alexandra Pierce, the city’s tourism manager, thinks the projection is accurate. The city anticipates having official numbers at the end of the month.
Back in February, the city’s best guess for the season was about one million tourists.
“[City finance director] Jeff Rogers and [city manager] Rorie Watt and I were wagering how many passengers we thought, when we came to that number in the spring,” Pierce said. “And we all guessed — our most popular guess was a million to 1.25 — and I think that’s about where we’ll fall.”
Their guesses were based on the capacity of cruise ships sailing in other parts of the world and on bookings that had already been made for cruises that stopped in Juneau.
The start of the season was slow, though. The first ship that came to Juneau in April was at half capacity.
Cruises had high vaccination rates this year — around 90% — but they still saw high rates of COVID, and that impacted travel. Staff shortages meant that people weren’t getting the service they expected, and passengers were often kept in the dark about COVID cases on board.
A month later, KTOO reported that Holland America was not allowing COVID-positive passengers to board cruise ships in Skagway. Instead, the company helped book them ferries and flights out of Alaska, while they were still sick.
In the end, though, Pierce thinks the season allowed Juneau to get used to cruise tourism again.
“I also think that it was a bit of a blessing in disguise that things operated at about 74% of capacity,” she said. “It gave us the ability to bust the rust off.”
If the ships had been at 100% capacity, the number would have exceeded the 1.3 million people who came in 2019, the last season before the pandemic.
The city is currently conducting its annual survey on the public’s opinion on tourism.