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One million passengers

By: Ketchikan Daily News

One million passengers.

That’s a lot of people.

On Monday, Ketchikan welcomed the 1 millionth passenger who has arrived in the First City aboard a cruise ship during the 2017 visitor season.

It was an historic occasion. After more than a decade of fluctuating between the most recent low of 828,929 (2010) and most recent high of 954,000 (2013) — Ketchikan now has seen its single-season count of cruise passengers top 1 million for the first time ever.

That’s worth thinking about.

In 1991, Ketchikan welcomed fewer than 250,000 passengers. But the industry was talking about growth and some of Ketchikan’s residents were seeing the opportunities. Over time, the community and industry committed the resources to plan for and build out the necessary infrastructure to accommodate more and larger cruise ships in Ketchikan.

It hasn’t been a simple expansion. Anyone who remembers the debates over things like the failed T-pier concept or the successful Berth 1 mooring dolphin in front of the entrance to Thomas Basin can attest to the heat of those conversations. Nor has everyone been pleased with how the growth of cruise-ship tourism has changed Ketchikan.

And it is a much-changed Ketchikan that now can accommodate 1 million cruise passengers in one season. On the whole, the benefits are remarkable.

That’s 1 million people absorbing the sights of Ketchikan in the span of five months. That’s 1 million potential customers of retail shops, eateries, tours and other businesses in Ketchikan. That’s 1 million people who, having enjoyed what they experienced here, could come back again and stay a while longer.

In short, they’re a tremendous economic engine for Ketchikan, providing employment and business opportunities for Ketchikan residents of nearly every age. And while the ships and their passengers are not here year-round, their seasonal presence is a concentrated dose of economic vitality that helps keep this community running during all 12 months of the calendar.

As it welcomed the 1 millionth passenger this week, Ketchikan is looking ahead toward how to accommodate the larger vessels that the industry says it will coming here soon — beginning with the 4,250-passenger Norwegian Bliss in 2018.

The City of Ketchikan is working on dock issues for accommodating larger ships, and is developing options for uplands changes to improve passenger and traffic flows. There have been and will be opportunities for the public to weigh in.

We don’t know what the future holds for the cruise ship industry, but we’ve seen the benefits it has brought to the community thus far. We should continue to be engaged with the cruise lines in planning toward a continued, viable partnership that takes us beyond the 1 million mark.

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