Government shutdown costs Alcatraz tour company $3 million

Evan DuCharme/Special to the S.F. Examiner
Alcatraz Cruises had to temporarily lay off 15 workers during the federal government shutdown.
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Stuart and Susane Hewko came to Pier 33 last week looking to visit Alcatraz, but no ferries were running. On Thursday, that changed.

The partial federal government shutdown that ended Wednesday night did more than inconvenience a vacationing Canadian couple; it also cost the company that runs the Alcatraz Island ferry system roughly $3 million and the U.S. National Park Service its cut of those proceeds.

Like other concessionaires that operate in national parks, Alcatraz Cruises was shut down Oct. 1, and until Thursday it had to scramble to manage its staff and angry customers.

“It was very stressful,” said Denise Rasmussen, Alcatraz Cruises marketing director. “We did a lot of refunds.”

The company, owned by Hornblower Cruises and Events, had to refund or reschedule 100,000 tickets, costing it about $3 million. What’s more, it had to temporarily lay off 15 employees and furlough a handful more.

“We hope we don’t have to go through one of these again,” Rasmussen said.

The closure cost the federal government money too.

Twenty-five percent of ticket sales, plus a dollar per ticket, goes to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which Alcatraz is a part of, Rasmussen said.

Late Wednesday, the GGNRA notified concessionaires — including Alcatraz Cruises — that they could reopen, said Alexandra Picavet, an agency spokeswoman. In San Francisco, those sites included the Warming Hut and the Beach Hut on Crissy Field and Lands End Lookout near Lands End.

The Cliff House and Fort Mason’s Hostelling International were both authorized to reopen before an end to the shutdown was negotiated.

“The National Park Service is much better at welcoming visitors into national parks than kicking them out,” said Picavet, who pointed out that the Park Service is busy ensuring parks are open to the public.

Chris Mundy, an Englishman who was waiting with a friend for the 3 p.m. Alcatraz ferry Thursday, said he booked his ticket months ago. But he would have only had “a degree of disappointment” if the shutdown had forced him to cancel his visit to the former federal prison.

His explanation: Brits, he said, are used to disappointment.

Alcatraz Island

The federal government shutdown took its toll on the popular San Francisco Bay attraction.

$30 Single ticket cost

100K Refunded and rescheduled tickets

$3M Lost revenue

1.5M Annual tickets sold

1,600 Tickets sold Thursday in first hour of reopening

$30M Annual revenue

5,700 Average daily ticket sales

17 Daily ferry trips to island Sources: Alcatraz Cruises, GGNRA

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