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Cruise lines slash prices  Jan 12, 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska's tourism industry is taking a hit because of the downturn in the U.S. economy, as well as the slowdown in the economy globally.

That has the state's major cruise ship operators slashing prices in hopes of filling ships this summer.

Cruise ships bring roughly 1 million visitors to Alaska each year. To get them here this summer, cruise ship lines are discounting tickets by as much as 40 percent.

John Binkley, executive director of the Alaska Cruise Association, said the discounting is because of some of the worst sales cruise lines have encountered.

"It's very much uncharted territory for them," he said.

No one really has a handle on how the tourism season will go. This is when people start booking, but summer is months off and sales could improve before then.

Last year, the cheapest Alaska cruise offered by the major lines was $799 plus fees, according to the Alaska Tourism Industry Association.

This winter, Princess Cruises is offering summer cruises for as low as $475 plus fees.

State economists have predicted the global recession will hit the state's tourism industry hardest with the loss of 300 leisure and hospitality jobs in the Anchorage area alone. That's a bigger decline than any other industry.

Many tourism businesses statewide are already reporting fewer bookings for the summer, down anywhere from 5 percent to 35 percent, according to the ATIA.

"The phone just isn't ringing," said Jerry Scholand, owner of the Kiana Bed & Breakfast in Homer.

He's resigned to some loss of business this year but he retains some hope that summer bookings will escalate over the next few months. Often, bookings start slow, he said.

In 2002, Scholand said business at his inn was good, despite gloomy predictions that fewer travelers would visit Alaska due to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorism attacks.

"My hunch is, they'll come," Scholand said.

In Talkeetna, most business owners expect at least a 20 percent reduction in summer traffic, or greater, said Paul Roderick, president of Talkeetna Air Taxi, which offers Denali flights to tourists and mountaineers.

"We're going to trim some of the staff and tighten things up a bit," Roderick said.

Cruise lines slash prices
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