With the border still closed to non-essential travel, Haines tourism businesses are adjusting and making do

The American Constellation docked in Haines on Saturday, June 12, from Skagway the day before. (Corinne Smith / KHNS)

Haines is known to visitors for many things – rafting, fishing, biking, camping and heli-skiing – but tourism is still largely cut back this summer due to the pandemic.

Haines Tourism Director Steven Auch estimates activity to be around a typical quarter of a year, as the international border remains limited to non-essential travel.

“With the border closed, it cut a lot of our normal traffic. And also without cruise ships here, of course, we know that has a big impact on our visitor base, ”said Auch. “So, right over my head, I guess it would be in the order of maybe 20 or 25%. “

The largest crowds are seen via the only cruise ship manufacturing port in Haines this summer, the American Constellation. It carries up to 170 passengers who come to town for day trips to Haines or rafting or wildlife viewing on the Chilkat River.

This has been central to the business of tour operators like Rainbow Glacier Adventures, says co-owner Joe Ordóñez. He says they only decided to operate after learning that cruise passengers need to be vaccinated, and overall err on the side of caution and conduct separate private tours.

“But really, we’re envisioning, if we get 10% of the business volume we had in 2019, we’ll be happy that’s where we’re at,” Ordóñez said. “So, certainly not a dramatically great year. But we have people working, we get out of it. We do what we love to do, which is connect our customers with Alaska. And we do, so it feels good.

Ordonez says they’ve hired local guides for one to two tours per week this year, compared to summer workers for five or seven days a week of work.

On Haines Main Street, the Rusty Compass Coffeehouse receives a constant flow of visitors and locals. McKenzie Dryden, a sixteen-year-old barista, has been working there for three summers now, and she says the business and tips are good.

“Overall, it’s been a constant kind of occupation,” said Dryden. “Not like a ‘can’t keep up’, too busy. There are days when we are really busy and others when we are slow, and we can make up for lost time.

In a typical summer, the huge commercial cruise ships docked at Skagway bring in over a million people each summer, and some cross to Haines for the day.

But only half a dozen cruise ships are expected to visit Skagway, and they’ll be arriving later in the summer. The fast ferry to Haines will operate, but will simply take cruise ship passengers to designated tours, not to explore or stay in Haines.

Sockeye Cycles runs guided bike tours around Haines and Skagway. Co-owner Dustin Craney said that since the 2021 cruise season will be shortened, they have been able to accommodate multi-day tours with independent travelers.

“We really focused on that market,” Craney said. “So we met a number of people who came for a ride or rented a bike who spent time in Juneau and time in Haines and time in Skagway and other places and used either the lines. maritime routes of Alaska, either the Fjordland Ferry to go back and forth and sort of plan your own week or a few weeks adventure in the area and just brought us in as a small party. ”

Craney says reopening the US-Canada border will be a game-changer, as some of their most popular trips are in the Yukon, particularly by bike from Haines to Skagway.

Haines Tourism Director Steven Auch said the state’s advertising of Alaska as a safe, outdoor-oriented tourist destination has helped. And although remote, the Upper Lynn Canal is connected to the broader outlook for the pandemic.

“If things continue on this positive pandemic trajectory, we expect to see more travelers overall. The return of the cruise industry. Hopefully the border will be open… we would like it to be open tomorrow if possible, ”Auch said with a laugh. “But we don’t expect that for a little longer.”

Haines tourism operators are optimistic about more activity next year, and hopes of opening the Canadian border are high, but that could be far away.

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