Royal Caribbean talks berthing agreement with assembly
April 29, 2021
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) is interested in a contractual berthing agreement with Haines, cruise line executives said during a Monday meeting with Haines Borough Assembly members.
The meeting was the culmination of more than a year of talks between borough tourism director Steven Auch and RCCL executives. Last May, the assembly adopted a resolution supporting increased port calls from Royal Caribbean at Auch’s recommendation.
Royal Caribbean representatives at Monday’s meeting said their interest in Haines was sparked by a desire to branch out from crowded Southeast ports like Juneau and Skagway.
“Haines has a berth. After Holland America had left, there was really no one reserving that. For me, as someone who is looking for cruise ship berths and unique communities, it really struck a chord, especially after meeting people from your community, that this could be a good fit,” RCCL director for business development Preston Carnahan said.
Several tour operators in attendance spoke enthusiastically about the idea of RCCL returning to Haines. Up until the late 1990s, Royal Caribbean made regular stops in town. The company stopped sailing to Haines after pleading guilty to federal felony crimes for dumping dry-cleaning and photo-processing chemicals in the upper Lynn Canal. A court settlement barring the company from sailing to Glacier Bay for five years forced the cruise line to reconfigure its itinerary.
“When Royal Caribbean pulled out in the ’99 period, I lost eighty percent of my business in that year. It was tough, but I’ve rebuilt myself… We’re looking forward to having you return,” Rainbow Glacier Adventures owner Joe Ordonez said.
When RCCL pulled out in 2000, the company had been scheduled to make 52 port visits with more than 106,000 passengers in 2001. In response to concerns about the boom-and-bust cycles associated with the cruise industry, RCCL executives said they’d like to set up a contractual berthing agreement with Haines.
“That will require us to bring (for example) one ship on every Wednesday or Thursday for a certain number of years, and so businesses can then plan for that minimum level of commitment from us as a cruise line and then we can start looking at what other cruise lines are coming,” Carnahan said.
Assembly members raised other concerns ranging from the town’s limited broadband infrastructure to the cruise line’s environmental record.
“I know there have been issues decades ago… What has Royal Caribbean done with their current fleet of ships to assure us that they’re not disposing of waste in the Lynn Canal or places where they shouldn’t be doing that?” assembly member Paul Rogers asked.
Carnahan described the company’s commitment to meeting environmental standards and said wastewater treatment technology has seen vast improvements since the late ‘90s.
In general, assembly members expressed excitement at the idea of working with RCCL.
“I’m open for business. I remember you guys here when I was a kid, and I remember when you left… I’m ready to open the arms up and let’s see what we can do,” assembly member Gabe Thomas said.
RCCL executives stressed interest in being a partner to the town, working to tailor the frequency of their visits and size of ships to suit residents’ preferences.
“One ship in Haines, it affects every one of your lives in the downtown area, so that’s something we need to look at and address,” Carnahan said.
RCCL executives said the Monday meeting was intended to open a channel of communication with the assembly. The return of regular Royal Caribbean visits to Haines is still years away.
The company had planned to try out Haines as a destination with several evening port calls this year, but Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sailing requirements, combined with 1800s maritime law and a Canadian port closure, make it likely Alaska will go another summer without large ships.
It’s unlikely Haines would see a large volume of RCCL traffic before 2024. The company is currently firming up schedules for 2023, according to Carnahan.