There may not be any additional cruise ships coming to Haines in 2012; but the good news is the ships that do come will be bringing more people, says John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association.

Binkley spoke at the Haines Chamber of Commerce luncheon on July 8. He talked about how the cruise industry is on the rebound from a few years of passenger and revenue decline, but also how Alaska faces competition worldwide in wooing ships to its ports.

Alaska had welcomed more than a million cruise ship passengers to its shores at the middle of the last decade. But that growth stopped, and then declined in 2007 and since. 

Cruise ship passengers still make up the majority of visitors to Alaska. In 2011, Binkley said 1,582,000 visitors came to Alaska; 887,000 of them on cruise ships. Next year, that number may jump by nearly 100,000. 

Haines will mostly feel the effect of Holland America increasing its capacity on ships by nearly 6 percent, or 11,000 passengers. That means the amount of cruise ship passengers stopping in Haines will increase by about 8.7 percent, according to Binkley.

“We’ve seen things bottom out and now we will see things improve going on,” Binkley said.

The cruise industry as a whole has grown over the last 20 years, with more than 14 million people around the world having taken a cruise. Even with the recession still slowing growth in many industries, the cruise lines have just invested $7.3 billion in new ships.

“The industry itself is growing rapidly,” Binkley said.

But, he emphasized, the industry is trying to grow “sustainably” also. The cruise lines have implemented strict wastewater management, air emissions and energy efficiency programs. He said technology still being explored is using solar power on ships (“not necessarily in Alaska, but in other places,” Binkley said) and liquefied natural gas, which would “dramatically decrease emissions,” he said.

Still, nothing points to Haines getting any more ships than the 23 scheduled ships this season, Binkley said. That prompted some local business owners at the meeting to prod Binkley as to what the community could do to lure more ships here.

“I don’t have a good solution to that,” Binkley said. “I wish I could say ‘Do A,B,C and they will show up.’”

The biggest challenge in getting more ships to add Haines as a port is the stiff competition around the world for cruise ship business, Binkley said. While Alaska still ranks high among world ports, there are now more ports for travelers to choose from.

“Alaska used to be one of the premier cruise destinations,” Binkley said. “But as the industry grows, Alaska has lost market share over the last 10 years.”