Tourism in Haines has picked up a bit this summer as a cruise line is in operation and independent travelers have a presence on the Upper Lynn Canal. But as Corinne Smith of KHNS reports, tourism will be greatly reduced with the ongoing restrictions on the US-Canadian border.
Although Haines is known to visitors for many things – white water rafting, fishing, biking, camping or heli-skiing – tourism is still severely restricted this summer due to the COVID pandemic.
Haines Tourism Director Steven Auch estimates activity to be around a quarter of a typical year as the international border is restricted to non-essential travel.
“When the border is closed, most of our normal traffic is cut off. And of course, even without the cruise lines here, we know that this has a major impact on our visitor base, ”said Auch. “So out of your head, I guess it would be in the range of maybe 20 or 25 percent.”
The main crowds this summer are seen over the one cruise port in Haines, the American Constellation. It carries up to 170 passengers who come to town for day trips for shopping or city tours, or drive up the highway to go rafting or game viewing on the Chilkat River.
That was the business focus of tour operators like Rainbow Glacier Adventures, says co-owner Joe Ordonez. He says they only decided to operate after learning that cruise passengers need to be vaccinated and overall play it safe and operate separate private tours.
“But really, if we get 10% of 2019’s business volume, we will be happy to be here,” Ordonez said. “So certainly not a dramatically great year. But we make people work, we take people with us. We do what we love to do, which is to connect our guests with Alaska. And we do it to make it feel good. “
Ordonez says they hired local guides for one to two tours a week this year, compared to summer workers for five or seven days a week.
The Rusty Compass Coffeehouse on Haines Main Street has a steady flow of visitors and locals. 16-year-old barista McKenzie Dryden has been working there for three summers and says business and tips are good.
“Overall, it’s been a constant activity,” said Dryden. “Not like a ‘can’t keep up’, too busy. Some days we are very busy and some days we are slow and we can catch up. “
On a typical summer, the huge commercial cruise lines that dock at Skagway bring in over a million people each summer, and some head to Haines for the day.
But Only half a dozen cruise lines are expected to visit Skagway, and later this summer. The high-speed ferry to Haines will operate but will only take cruise passengers on certain tours, not to explore Haines or to stay there.
Sockeye Cycles offers guided bike tours around Haines and Skagway. Co-owner Dustin Craney says they have been able to adapt to multi-day tours with independent travelers since the 2021 cruise season.
“We really focused on this market,” said Craney. “We have met a number of people who have taken a tour or rented a bike, spent some time in Juneau and some time in Haines and some time in Skagway and other places, and either the Alaska Navy Lines or the Fjordland Ferry, to come back and forth and plan their own week or a couple of weeks long adventure in the area and only include us as a small part. “
Craney says it will be a tipping point when the US-Canada border reopens, as some of their most popular excursions are in the Yukon, particularly cycling from Haines to Skagway.
Haines Tourism Director Steven Also says the state promoting Alaska as a COVID-safe, outdoor-oriented tourist destination has helped. And while remote, the Upper Lynn Canal is connected to the wider pandemic outlook.
“If things continue on this positive path regarding the pandemic, we expect more travelers overall. The cruise industry is returning. Hopefully the border is open … we want it to be as open as possible tomorrow, “laughed Auch. “But we don’t expect that for a while.”
Haines tourism companies are optimistic for more activity over the next year and hopes of opening the Canadian border are high, but that could still be a long way off.