Alaska: An awe-inspiring magnet for cruise tourism

Alaska is attracting growing numbers of cruise guests and has a vital role to play in the industry’s growth. Beth Bodensteiner of Holland America Line tells Jacqui Griffiths more

Alaska: An awe-inspiring magnet for cruise tourism
Travellers are only able to get a true appreciation of Glacier Bay from the water, making a cruise the ideal way to explore the region

Sublime natural beauty, a rich cultural heritage and diverse wildlife are just some of the elements that make Alaska a magnet for cruise tourism. The largest state in the US, the awe-inspiring destination has long been a favourite among shipboard tourists.

“Alaska puts all the pieces together for being one of the top cruise destinations in the world,” says Beth Bodensteiner, senior vice president and chief commercial officer of Holland America Line. “It has breathtaking natural beauty and scenery, rich culture, an abundance of wildlife and it is best seen by a cruise ship because there are few connecting roads in the southeast and a destination like Glacier Bay can only be appreciated from the water.”

For Holland America Line, Alaska’s geography offers unique opportunities to create unforgettable guest experiences that weave together exploration by land and sea.

“For our guests that choose to travel inland and see more of Alaska, joining a Land + Sea journey is a superb combination of cruise and land options and a convenient way to cover thousands of miles without stress,” says Bodensteiner. “Holland America Line is the only cruise company to weave must-see sites such as Denali National Park – where Holland America Line owns the McKinley Chalet Resort, featuring new junior suites and upgrades – with an exclusive exploration of the Yukon to Dawson City in Canada.”

Alaska’s popularity among visitors of all kinds – and especially cruise tourists – is growing apace. In fact, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) estimates that in 2019 the area will see around 175,000 more cruise visitors than it did last year.

“Alaska is showing continued growth in the short to medium term,” says Bodensteiner. “In fact, CLIA has called it the number one growth destination in our industry. Certainly, we have seen newer ships are coming into the market, including our own Koningsdam, which will begin operation here in 2020.”

To support those growing visitor numbers, the cruise industry is adding extra port calls and bringing larger ships that can accommodate more guests. Underpinning this increased activity is the sensitive development of its infrastructure, which should enable continued growth.

“The region has several projects underway, or in the planning stages, to expand the existing infrastructure by replacing piers and improving access, to enhancing tourist areas for visitors,” says Bodensteiner. “Alaska has the capability to grow sustainably as long as the infrastructure continues to evolve as well.”

Growth at this speed is not without its challenges, and leading operators are working with local stakeholders and authorities to make sure Alaska remains a world-leading destination.

“As growth continues, the industry must manage that growth in a positive and proactive way,” says Bodensteiner. “We continually need to work with various local groups to ensure that shore activities are available and attractive and that ports can handle the number of ships with ease and not feel clogged. We must also continue to maintain our relationships with the various stakeholder groups – from chambers of commerce to tribal organisations, federal agencies and local governments. CLIA Alaska is instrumental in working with all the lines on many fronts.”

Holland America Line’s years of experience in Alaska are also helping it to plot a successful course that both supports and takes the lead in a flourishing cruise tourism market.

“We have staff in the state to help us with the overall logistics and management,” says Bodensteiner. “We also work together with our sister Carnival Corporation brands. With more than 70 years of experience in Alaska, we have done well at managing the needs through our commitment to the region.”

Bodensteiner’s passion for Alaska’s cruise experience is testament both to its timeless appeal and to the new opportunities it holds for the cruise industry.

“The greatest opportunity with Alaska is that more first-time cruisers take a cruise to Alaska than to any other region,” she says. “CLIA estimates that about 1.3 million cruise visitors will come to Alaska in 2019 – an increase of 16% over 2018 – and voyages are attracting a large number of the important new-to-cruise vacationers.”

In addition to signifying the powerful draw of Alaska as a destination, these figures also point to its role in the future of the wider cruise industry. Alaska is where many people have their first taste of cruising, and it offers cruise lines the opportunity to make a first impression that will last in the form of customer satisfaction, growth and sustained market share.

“Alaska is an important region for all cruise niches to achieve the goals of attracting new cruisers,” says Bodensteiner. “And with the very positive experiences for couples and for the many multi-generational families that cruise to Alaska, we have an opportunity to convert these guests to lifelong cruisers.”

This article was first published in the 2019 issue of Cruise & Ferry Itinerary Planning. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Jacqui Griffiths
By Jacqui Griffiths
12 February 2020

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