Is Your Next Alaska Cruise Worth an Extra $50?

August 22, 2006
Alaska residents are headed to the polls today for a vote that could affect your next cruise vacation. A proposed tax of $46 (plus a $4 berth charge) for every cruise passenger who visits the state is on the ballot; if approved, a family of four could end up dropping an extra $200 on their vacation -- before they even pack their bags.

The idea of a hefty head tax isn't a new one. For the past decade or so, Alaskans have lobbied for the initiative, but it usually fizzles out before the primary elections. The most recent petition, however, netted 174 more than the required 23,285 signatures to put Ballot Measure 2 -- more commonly known as the "cruise ship tax" -- in front of voters.

The monies collected would be used to improve port and harbor facilities, and support environmental programs.

With the Alaska cruise season lasting a lengthy five months (May through September, with June through August at its peak), cruise lines and businesses are concerned that the tax might dissuade people from visiting Alaska, or from spending onboard and ashore.

John Shively, the vice president of government and community relations for Holland America (and a committee member with NorthWest CruiseShip Association, which represents cruise lines throughout the Pacific Northwest), tells us that while it's possible some folks simply won't cruise Alaska, what's also a concern is that those that do will most likely spend less ashore. Shively tells us that based on the results of a poll conducted by Washington D.C.-based Cromer Group, if a $50 tax is enacted, 75 percent of potential passengers would reduce or eliminate shore excursions, potentially spending less money at Alaska restaurants, gift shops and cultural centers as well.

As for the cruise lines, the initiative "is very punitive," Shively says. "The costs are both direct and indirect ... standards we already meet will be made more bureaucratic." The head tax is just one of the many provisions on the eight-page proposal, including taxes on gambling revenues in Alaska waters and ports, corporate taxes for tour companies, and convoluted disclosure policies.

Shively also points out that there's already a $14 head tax in Alaska -- $7 in Juneau and $7 in Ketchikan -- and that this initiative, if passed, would bring the additional cost per person to $64.

Stay tuned -- we'll report on the results of the election tomorrow.

Would the extra tax keep you from cruising to Alaska? If so, would you turn to another region like Hawaii -- or go by land instead? Sound off via e-mail! We've already gotten a few responses:

Arv and Judy weigh in, "If the extra tax gets imposed and we again cruise to Alaska we will not spend a dime on shore. The beauty of Alaska is in the scenery and wildlife, not the shopping. I have made purchases ashore on previous cruises as well as eaten ashore but these expenditures are not necessary with the fine meals served aboard the ships. My wife and I will get off the ship and stretch our legs, spend no money and return to the ship for further relaxation and dining."

Huntedbear writes, "I would still go to Alaska even with the tax. We are taking our second Alaska cruise on Vision of the Seas in September and know that the pure beauty of the state is the main draw. When you look at the overall cost of the cruise the cost of the tax is really not that much, and is just a fact of doing business."

Dan says, simply, "I would rather go somewhere else than pay extra tax."

--By Melissa Baldwin, Associate Editor