The seats are filling up for the start of the Visitor Industry Task Force at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The seats are filling up for the start of the Visitor Industry Task Force at City Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Empire Live: Tourism Task Force meeting at City Hall

‘Is the current approach to managing the visitor industry adequate?’

Summary: The Task Force received a lot of information during this meeting, but at the end the group’s chair Carole Triem says they’re consistently not reaching goals for the meeting. Terrel said at the end of the meeting that she would like to hear less about the issues and more about the solutions.

There are public comment meetings scheduled for January.

1:33 p.m.

Last to speak is Michele Elfers from the Parks and Recreation Department to talk about permitting.

“We’re not only managing tourism commercial use we’re managing local commercial use,” Elfers says, like fun-runs and Fourth of July events.

1:30 p.m.

James King, from the U.S. Forest Service is talking about the safely managing the local natural resources with the large amount of visitors coming to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.

After community meetings and internal studies, King says it was agreed the current visitor center location should remain the hub of tourism for the Mendenhall Glacier area.

Melting ice is a concern as well. People want an experience with the face of the glacier, King says. An idea to put in a gondola taking visitors over the glacier was ultimately scrapped because that wasn’t the experience people wanted. The idea of boats taking people across Mendenhall Lake or a floating platform in front of the glacier are currently being considered.

“This has been a long process,” King says. The environmental review process is set to begin soon, he says. The project is set to cost $111 million, which is going to require some fundraising. If all the funding can be obtained at one time, construction could begin in two to three years, King said.

1:20 p.m.

Juneau is an exceptional port for whale watching, says the next presenter Suzie Teerlink with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries department. There are about 20 companies that advertise whale watching locally in Juneau. But while there are great whale watching opportunities there are times when the practice can be harmful to whales, Teerlink says.

To help mitigate those impacts, NOAA has helped to create a website, Whale SENSE, which give tourists names of responsible whale watching tours and provide information on less impactful whale watching.

However, there are no federal laws limiting the number of boats allowed out at one time on whale watching tours, and enforcement of whale protection laws can be hard to enforce, Teerlink says.

1:05 p.m.

Drew Green of Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska goes to the microphone to talk about cruise ship scheduling and traffic. CLAA coordinates scheduling of cruise ship port calls and itineraries, Green says. Cruise ship schedules are provided two years in advance so CLAA can work out any conflicts between the various ship schedules.

There are only two days during the season when there are berths available, Green says.

“The sky is not the limit,” when it comes to cruise ship capacity in Juneau, according to Green.

Terrel asks if the city has any control over when ships can come to Juneau. The city owns two berths and the anchorage and could have some say in scheduling if they chose. Green says the city has not yet asked for any input into cruise ship scheduling.

But without an idea of scheduling throughout the whole state, if the city were to try and influence scheduling it could have ripple affects outside of Juneau, Day says. Other smaller cities are dependent on Juneau to take the bulk of the ships, according to Green.

12:45 p.m.

Next up is Scott Hinton from Docks and Harbors who is running through all the fees tour operators pay to use city facilities. Everything from docking, water, trash, boat launches and maintenance require fees to be paid to the city. The city takes in over $3 million each year from fees alone, Hinton says.

Docks and Harbors is also responsible for managing traffic in the downtown area, particularly with buses meeting passengers coming off cruise ships.

Hinton doesn’t have combined totals from all the fees and he is asked to provide those numbers as well as the cost of administering all of Docks and Harbors management practices to the next meeting.

12:35 p.m.

The question of “teeth” has come up with regards to TBMP. How much power does TMBP have to enforce the guidelines?

Not much, Day admits. There are no fines for violation of rules. The only thing TMBP has in terms of enforcement is that membership in the group is a requirement to obtain certain permits.

Holly Johnson, president of Wings Airways says that peer pressure among tour operators goes a long way. When one operator gets a notice from TBMP, all tour operators are made aware.

12:27 p.m.

Community activist Paula Terrel tells Day that while she believes that everything TBMP does is a good thing, she says many people she’s spoken to think the hotline is useless. Problems persist, she says, and the hotline “doesn’t address the elephant in the room: how much is too much?”

Day acknowledges TMBP has its weak points but stresses that actually talking to someone has benefits for both the caller and the hotline operator. The hotline is a great way for tour operators to listen to what the issues in the community are.

“We have to find ways to do better every year,” Day says.

12:20 p.m.

It’s a packed house at City Hall and the meeting is about to begin.

There are a number of presentations to be made at today’s meeting. Representatives from the City of Juneau, the Forest Service, and the cruise ship industry will be presenting.

First up is Kirby Day from Holland America Line talking about tourism management best practices. Day recalls a time when the city said the number of tourists was unmanageable – that was 1997 when there were only 5,000 passengers.

The TBMP is an excellent way to set guidelines for the various aspects of the tourism industry without regulation, Day says. He says the tourism hotline was one of the best results of TBMP. “When you get on the phone with someone, you generally come away with a better understanding and those issues get resolved,” Days says.

12:00 p.m.

On the agenda for today, the Visitor Industry Task Force is looking at the question: “Is the current approach to managing the the visitor industry adequate to make Juneau an attractive place to live and to visit?”

Agenda packets are available at the city’s website.


Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or psegall@juneauempire.com.


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