The jury is out on whether a $50 surtax imposed on cruise ship passengers travelling to Alaska will have any effect on Whistler tourism.
Last week Alaska residents passed a number of initiatives aimed at tightening the environmental impact of cruise ships passing through Alaskan waters. In addition to facing new taxes on corporate and gambling revenues, fines and potential fines for wastewater violations, cruise ships are required to pay a $50 tax for each cruise passenger. The tax is to cover costs of Coast Guard inspections for health, safety, and wastewater treatment and discharge operations on cruise ships.
It’s another blow to a Vancouver industry that’s seen a steady decline in numbers in the past four years. Facing competition from a concentrated marketing campaign by Seattle, Vancouver port passenger numbers declined 11 per cent alone in the past year. According to the Port of Vancouver, each cruise ship coming to the city contributes $2 million in revenue.
Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (RMV), the Vancouver-based private railway that has brought 19,000 visitors to Whistler so far this year during the first summer of operation for the Whistler Mountaineer, says the tax can’t be a good thing for B.C. tourism.
“Any time there’s a tax it’s just one more reason to have concern for tourism as a whole,” said Graham Gilley, RMV’s vice-president, marketing and communications. Between five and 10 per cent of RMV’s traffic is referred from the cruise industry. Whether or not the tax will have an effect on the railway’s business remains to be seen.
“Sometimes it’s the hassle factor — that people don’t fully understand ‘what am I getting for this surtax?’ And then the other side of the coin is maybe people are just used to it, used to having add-ons because airlines and hotels have done it,” Gilley said. He added that it will take months or years to see if the tax is a deterrent.
Tourism Whistler says less than one per cent of Whistler visitors are referred by the cruise industry and anticipate the tax will have minimal impact on the area.
Michele Comeau Thompson also said Whistler’s tourism marketing arm concurs with Alaska’s initiative.
“The very environment that most of these cruise ship customers are coming to experience is what they’re trying to protect with this tax,” Comeau Thompson said. “Hopefully the impact of this tax will not be the tipping point that will actually make people decide not to take a cruise vacation.”