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Cruise Industry Buoys the Statewide Economy 

July 2, 2019

Every spring and summer, travelers from around the country and across the world flock to the Seattle waterfront to board cruise ships bound for Alaska. They are drawn to the promise of relaxation and adventure alongside unforgettable scenery. 

But for many, the adventure starts before their trip begins. They marvel at the beauty of our region, spend money in our local businesses, and make plans to explore our beautiful city and region before or after their cruise. Services like Port Valet encourage travelers to spend a little extra time in Seattle without their luggage, so they can sightsee, eat out, and explore Seattle.

Seattle’s cruise industry is booming, and that means more visitors, more tourism, and more money to small businesses across Washington state. The economic impacts of the cruise industry in Seattle are felt all the way from Eastern Washington farms and ranches that provide food for cruise customers, to King County attractions that depend upon summer season travelers to support year-round activities.

Seattle dipped its toe into the cruise market in 1999, with six vessels and a little more than 6,000 passengers. Since then, Seattle has emerged as the premier hub for Alaska and Pacific Northwest cruises, with more than 213 vessel calls projected between April and October 2019. Seattle’s spectacular setting and easy access to Sea-Tac Airport has made an Alaska cruise from Seattle a “bucket list” vacation. Seattle’s naturally deep water port can accommodate some of the largest vessels in the world.

Norwegian Bliss

Cruise visitors are setting sail from Seattle’s waterfront in record numbers. Seattle welcomed one million cruise visitors to the region during the 2017 season, and the numbers have increased each year, with 1.1 million passengers in 2018 and 1.2 million passengers forecast for 2019. 

Regional Tourism Woodinville Wine Country Executive Director Sandra Lee said the Pacific Northwest region offers a truly unique experience for cruise passengers that extends beyond Seattle city limits. 

“We’re spoiled by the rich diversity of experiences that are available within just an hour’s drive,” she said. “We take for granted the fact that you can easily pair an ocean cruise up the scenic coast of North America with a day trip to one of the premier winemaking regions in the world.”

She said a trip to Woodinville Wine Country is the “perfect pairing” with a Seattle to Alaska cruise.

Hollywood school in Woodinville
Photo credit: Washington State Wine courtesy of Andréa Johnson Photography

“For a growing number of cruise passengers, Alaska is just part of the journey,” Lee said. “Working with travel agents to promote ‘cruise and stay’ packages has led to thousands of passengers taking trips out to Woodinville Wine Country. Our local wine businesses are also marketing heavily to cruise ships to bring that Washington experience on board with local wines and varietals.”

Cruise passengers have a positive economic impact on the region:

  • In 2019, non-resident passengers spending time in Seattle spent an average of $850 per party pre-cruise and $697 post-cruise, directly generating an estimated $226.8 million in business output and will support an estimated 2,490 jobs, and $83.2 million in wages including benefits.
  • In 2019, the cruise business will create nearly $900 million a year in local business revenue, with each homeport ship call contributing an average $4.2 million to the state’s economy and supporting more than 5,500 jobs 
  • The cruise industry will generate an estimated $14.5 million in statewide taxes directly and through multiplier effects in 2019

Cruise provisioning

Suppliers from across the state, including seafood and produce companies, florists, farmers, vineyards, and maritime support industries have built strong businesses selling to cruise companies. Local suppliers keep cruise ships provisioned when they are in Seattle and support other businesses that supply products to the cruise lines. 

One local bakery uses 40,000 pounds of butter every three weeks to make enough croissants to supply the cruise ships. The butter comes from Krainick Dairy LLC, in Enumclaw, Wash.

“All of these consumers have preserved our way of life and it’s really important to us,” said Leann Krainick, owner of Krainick Dairy. “Seattle brings in so many visitors every year it really helps sustain local farmers. Sharing local products with cruise ship passengers is a huge opportunity.”

To meet the rising demand for cruise in Seattle, the Port of Seattle is exploring the development of a new cruise facility at the north berth of Terminal 46 on the Seattle waterfront.

Mike West, general manager of Hotel Interurban in Tukwila, said he looks forward to the increased economic opportunity that would come from an additional cruise facility.

“We already see a great deal of business that comes in from the over one million cruise passengers who come in each year for cruises,” he said. “The expansion would increase the volume of guests that come in. Cruise has a big impact on hotels and the additional cruise facility is something we’re very excited to see come to fruition.”

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