Tourists walk the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Tourists walk the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Mid-season passenger numbers at roughly two-thirds capacity

There’s about the same number of hulls, but less passengers aboard than pre-pandemic.

As dozens of ships come through Juneau each week with the return of cruise ships, passenger numbers are coming in just below 70% of total berthing capacity, according to City and Borough of Juneau data shared with the Empire.

The return is going smoothly for the city’s Docks and Harbors division, said Harbormaster Matthew Creswell.

“It’s good. It’s much better than expected. There’s been no major hiccups,” Creswell said in an interview. “It’s incredibly smooth compared to what it could have been.”

[Positive growth in the forecast for Juneau’s economic climate]

Docks and Harbors is seeing a return to pre-pandemic levels of ship traffic, but passenger berths are not as full. Through June, Docks and Harbors recorded 330,708 passengers from ships with a total capacity of 485,678, for an average level of 68% of operating capacity.

“I think we’ve got more ships this year. It’s on par with 2019. We’re seeing a little bit smaller capacity number but that’s going on,” Creswell said. “If you walk the docks you couldn’t tell the difference between 2019 and 2022.”

There’s significant variation between passenger levels from line to line, Creswell said.

“Some lines are running 90%, some are running 60,” Creswell said. “Depends on the cruise ship line.”

Cruise ships lay moored alongside the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Cruise ships lay moored alongside the piers downtown on July 14, 2022. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Back to business

For businesses, that returning tide of tourists is a welcome one.

“It’s going really well. From the (Downtown Business Association) perspective we’re super excited to visitors back in town,” said DBA president Midgi Moore. “Businesses are doing well. We’re all excited to have that sense of normalcy back.”

While ships might be averaging two-thirds capacity, Moore, that might be a silver lining as businesses seek to staff back up and resume operations at their pre-pandemic tempo.

“I see that businesses are open and thriving. It’s going to take at least 2 years of good business to recover. But we’re making progress,” Moore said. “It’s not necessarily everything we need. But it’s a foot in the door.”

For others who cared less for the tempo of full-bore tourist seasons, this lighter season has been more palatable than past years.

“I think that because the cruise ships haven’t been running full — I think perhaps what we’re experiencing this year is a tolerable level of tourism,” said Karla Hart, a local cruise-limiting activist. “Not in number of ships, but in number of passengers.”

Hart said this level of passengers is a more reasonable one for Juneau, to her mind.

“I think this year might be a model for what we should look toward for Juneau,” Hart said.

However, the tourists are still making their presence felt, Hart said.

“People are still experiencing things. There’s certainly neighborhood impacts going on,” Hart said. “We got used to using the glacier area a lot in 2020 and 2021. How many people are displaced now, I don’t know.”

But for businesses, it’s good to get the bodies back circulating through Juneau, Moore said. While she didn’t have hard numbers for the economic boost, she — and others— were struggling to keep up with demand from tourists.

“From my point of view, Juneau Food Tours, it’s my banner year. It’s going great,” Moore said. “It’s all going very well. We’re all tour operators and businesses so grateful to have our visitors back.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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