Nakeshia Diop photo
The Norwegian Sun docked in Haines.

Haines is experiencing a successful cruise-ship season, with 82,000 anticipated passengers arriving to town, one of the highest numbers in the past decade. Tourism director Rebecca Hylton said she expects an additional 10,000 passengers in 2024 and 2025, but Haines still faces challenges in developing more cruise traffic.

At the end of cruise tours, passengers are asked to rate their experiences in all the ports, and Haines received the lowest ranking, Hylton said, adding the ranking is based on a lot of variables, including personal preferences, weather, and presentation of the town.

The data isn’t broken down by category, but passengers and locals had some ideas for why Haines scored lower than other communities. Sandosh Vaidyanathan from Seattle, Wa., said he couldn’t find a lot to do during his day-long visit last week. “It’s a good, nice place. It’s a quiet, calm, relaxing place, but there might not be more than one day (worth of) activities,” he said.

The Norwegian Sun docked at 7 a.m., and Vaidyanathan and his family went hiking and walked around town. His main gripe was transportation. “We need more approachable transport, something on call and reachable like Uber, public buses or bicycle rentals.”

The Norwegian Sun is one of the larger ships, with a capacity of around 2,000 passengers. Vaidyanathan said the ship seemed to be at 80-90% capacity. Most ships this year have been at capacity, according to Hylton.

Next year, the time that ships spend in port will be longer, which shop owners hope will translate to more money spent at local businesses.

Tresham Gregg, an artist who owns the Sea Wolf Gallery in Haines, said business was pretty good in 2018 and 2019, but this year has not reached those pre-pandemic peaks.

“We’re such a great destination but we don’t really reach out to people to come out here to spend vacation time. I think that would make a big difference,” said Gregg.

He said that Haines might not be getting as many independent travelers. He speculated it’s because the state transitioned from investing in the ferry system to relying on cruise ships to advertise tourism in Alaska. “It doesn’t necessarily help Haines. Haines gets lost in the shuffle,” he said.

While cruise ships aren’t coming in as steady as they used to, Kalani Kanahele, who works as an visitor’s information assistant, said he’s noticed an increase in road traffic from Canada and the Lower 48. Hylton said several businesses downtown, including the Bamboo Room, have been impressed with increased road traffic as well.

Haines has a 5.5% sales tax rate in the townsite, and 1% of that goes towards promoting tourism and economic development. Hylton said that while no set plan has been developed for how the 1% will be spent, she hoped the community could form a concrete plan within a year. She hoped a big part of the vision would increase marketing and outreach to Haines’ neighbors.

The last cruise ship of the season is the Seabourn Odyssey, which will be in Haines Oct. 5.