In order to "improve the economic opportunities for communities and businesses in Alaska" from the cruise industry's point of view, cruise lines that sail in the state have formed the Alaska Cruise Association.

In a release, the association said that it intends to bridge the gap between cruise industry and the communities of Alaska and "work with the public and business leaders, to build a long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationship."

John Binkley, a former state senator and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate, will lead the Alaska-based association. Binkley's family owns and operates two Alaska tourist attractions, the Riverboat Discovery and El Dorado Gold Mine.

"The cruise lines come to Alaska with almost 1 million passengers per year," Binkley said in an interview. "How can Alaskans better benefit from that? I will travel to communities to listen to leaders and to businesses to find out how we can do better."

The cruise industry is still reeling from the blow of a referendum that Alaska voters passed last summer that slapped the major cruise lines with a host of new taxes and regulations that begin this cruise season.

Binkley said the industry had been looking at forming such an organization before the vote, but that the results of the referendum "sharpened their focus."

"The cruise lines see this as an evolution of our presence in Alaska," said Royal Caribbean International President Adam Goldstein, in a statement.

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].

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