Seward is expected to see tourists this summer as COVID-19 travel restrictions ease — with or without cruise ships.
Canada will extend the U.S.-Canada border closure to nonessential travel in an effort to minimize the spread of the coronavirus, the Canadian news publication CTV reported Tuesday, just a few days before the emergency declaration was set to expire.
The border closure has been an ongoing struggle for cruise lines looking to make their way from the Pacific Northwest coast to Alaska, as many ships have to stop to dock at foreign Canadian ports.
On Thursday, Congress passed legislation that is headed to President Joe Biden’s desk, which will allow large cruise ships to sail directly from Washington to Alaska without stopping in Canada.
Carnival Corp. said it expects to resume sailing to Alaska in late July and running until early October, the Associated Press reported. The company said its Carnival, Holland America and Princess lines will each operate one ship on round-trip voyages between Seattle and Alaska for fully vaccinated passengers.
Jason Bickling, executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center, said the Canadian government’s decision to remain closed likely wouldn’t have affected tourism in Seward too much.
He said on average, it takes around 90 days for cruise lines to file paperwork and prepare to sail, so any U.S. ships hoping to tour Alaska wouldn’t be able to make their way north until after the peak of summer.
Bickling said the city does have one cruise ship approved to dock in Seward this July because it hosts fewer than 100 people and ports in Russia.
Pre-pandemic, Bickling said, Seward would dock 90-plus cruise ships a year. With all of the travel cancellations last summer, he said, tourism in Seward dropped between 60% and 80%.
“Last year was really, really hard,” Bickling said.
For this summer, however, he said despite the lack of cruise ships coming to Seward’s ports, the city’s hospitality industry is all booked up.
Bickling said many people who would have normally taken a cruise from Seattle or Victoria are planning to travel to Alaska by plane instead.
While tourism looks like it will increase, businesses across the peninsula and state have been experiencing employee shortages. Seward is no exception.
Bickling said “seasonal staffing is really feeling it” in the coastal haven, especially those Seward businesses owned by the cruise lines.
Even without an influx of cruise ships and with an employee shortage, he said a good chunk of local businesses are “going to have a decent summer.”
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.