Gov. Dunleavy announces national Alaska tourism ad campaign to counter ‘death grapple’ with CDC

A man in a zip up windbreaker speaks at a podium in front of a float plane
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks about his hopes for holding a summer cruise season this year in a news conference in the hangar of Wings Airways in Juneau on Friday. Holland America executive Ralph Samuels and Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon are behind Dunleavy. (Andrew Kitchenman/KTOO and Alaska Public Media)

Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Friday that Alaska’s state government will conduct a national advertising campaign to support the tourism industry this summer.

The governor, a Republican, repeated his call for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to allow a cruise season. 

“This is an economic death grapple right now with individuals that are focused on health,” he said at a news conference at the hangar for Wings Airways, which flies cruise passengers for sightseeing around Juneau.

He said Alaska has proven it can keep visitors and state residents healthy during the pandemic. 

“We know what we’re doing here,” he said. “And I’m not saying this out of arrogance. I’m saying: Look at the data. Look at the results. Look at what happened with the fishing industry. Look what happened with the mining industry. Look what happened with the oil industry.”  

RELATED: As summer approaches, Alaska leaders are making continued efforts to salvage cruise tourism

The CDC’s position is just one federal issue that could prevent cruise ships from coming to Alaska. Another is a federal law requiring cruise ships headed to Alaska to stop in Canada, which won’t allow ships until next year.

Dunleavy signed a resolution asking Congress and President Biden to exempt Alaska from the law. 

Juneau Democratic Sen. Jesse Kiehl sponsored the measure, Senate Joint Resolution 9. He said the cruise season can happen without any safety shortcuts. 

“The simple fact is that this is a live-or-die moment for the economy of a huge portion of our state,” he said.

Dunleavy’s office said tourism businesses will receive federal funded relief grants. 

The governor said details of the tourism plan will be announced next week, including his proposals to fund it.  

Dunleavy said Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will meet with businesses and community groups to gather input on what they need.

Juneau tourism business leaders spoke at the news conference about the effect the shutdown is having on them. 

Reecia Wilson, who owns the Hangar on the Wharf and other Juneau restaurants, said while all Alaska restaurants benefit from visitors, 75% of her business comes from either cruise passengers or seasonal tourism workers. 

“The difference here in Juneau is our business model — and the infrastructure that we developed over the last 25 years — relies on what I call a cruise-dependent market,” she said. 

Juneau Mayor Beth Weldon said the city stands to lose $26 million in revenue without a cruise season. 

“The collateral business damage is devastating,” she said.

A representative for Holland America said even if a wave of a magic wand removed all obstacles for a cruise season, it would still take until at least July 1 for cruises to start. 

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