Murkowski Announces Bill to Protect Alaska Tourism Industry
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski announced new legislation to provide a permanent exemption from the Passenger Vessel Services Act (PVSA) for cruises between the Lower 48 and Alaska. During her keynote speech at the Southeast Conference Annual Meeting in Haines, Senator Murkowski unveiled the details of her proposal, which will be introduced next week.
“While the PVSA is well-intentioned to protect American jobs and businesses, it had the unintended consequence of putting Alaskan businesses at the mercy of the Canadian government. It nearly wiped out Southeast Alaskan economies as we saw business after business ready to welcome visitors, but unable to because Canadians would not respond to our requests to allow foreign stops at their ports to meet the requirement of PVSA. We cannot let that happen again,” says Senator Murkowski. “Next week, I intend to introduce legislation that will permanently exempt Alaskan cruises carrying more than 1,000 passengers from the PVSA. This legislation will create jobs for American merchant mariners in the cruise industry, and to ensure foreign-built cruise ships do not compete with US-built ships, this waiver will end once there is a US-built cruise ship that carries more than 1,000 passengers. We do not want to compete with US shipbuilders—that’s why this legislation ends once there is an American market. Bottom line, we need to reform the PVSA so that Alaskans’ ability to engage in commerce isn’t derailed by the government of another country.”
In 2019, Alaska hosted over 1.3 million visitors by way of cruise ships. That number came to a halt in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated mandates, decimating Alaskan small businesses and Alaska’s economy overall. For example, according to a Southeast Conference report June 2020 report, Skagway business revenue was down 80 percent compared to the same period in 2019. The tourism industry in Alaska typically generates more than $214 million in state and municipal revenue, more than $1.4 billion in payroll, and $2.2 billion in visitor spending—all of which saw a significant decline during the coronavirus pandemic.
Senator Murkowski worked to ensure that large cruise ships could return to Alaska to provide economic opportunity for communities and small businesses that rely heavily on tourism. Her legislation, the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act (ATRA), which was signed into law on May 24, 2021, provided a temporary fix under the PVSA, and paved the way for cruise ships to resume operations and transport passengers between the State of Washington and State of Alaska for the remainder of the 2021 season. Due to the Canadian prohibition on passenger vessels traveling through Canadian waters, large cruise ships sailing to Alaska would not have been able to sail to Alaska this summer and fall as the PVSA requires a stop in a foreign country.
The PVSA was designed to benefit American shipbuilders and merchant mariners and to bolster our nation’s readiness in times of conflict. While the PVSA still serves its purpose in the Lower 48, it became readily apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that Alaska needed an exemption due to Canada closing its borders.
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