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Biden signs bill that marks big news for Seattle’s cruise industry

Big news for our region’s cruise industry: President Biden signed the Alaska Tourism Restoration Act on Monday, which lifts a requirement that foreign registered ships traveling between the mainland United States and Alaska must stop in a foreign port.

Typically, cruise ships traveling from Seattle to Alaska had made their foreign stops in Canada. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has closed its borders to all non-essential travel.

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“When Canada closed the ports, … it essentially wiped out our cruise season,” said travel expert Steve Danishek, who points out that the bulk of Seattle’s cruise business relies on ships traveling to and from Alaska.

Stephanie Jones Stebbins, the managing director of maritime for the Port of Seattle, says the loss of the 2020 cruise season has already cost the Puget Sound region plenty.

“That would have been about $26 million to the Port and about $900 million in the community, in terms of lost economic impact,” according to Jones Stebbins, which she says includes everything from the money tourists spend in Seattle area restaurants and shops, to businesses that help supply the ships when they’re in port.

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She predicts the Port of Seattle will see about 80 cruise ships for a shortened 2021 season, perhaps brining in a quarter of what the industry generates in our region during a typical year.

Danishek cautions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could sink those plans, if it proposes new, challenging health rules as cruise ships return to the sea.

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