Amy Purvis isn’t sure things will ever be completely normal as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic wanes, but as a private security guard she’s already seeing bustling activity in the downtown parking areas she patrols, and as an artist she’s hopeful about selling her works to cruise ship passengers when they begin arriving for the first time this year Monday.
“I’m glad we’re getting back to somewhat normal,” she said while sketching out one of her works on a bench at Marine Park leading to the mostly empty pier Friday afternoon.
The Norwegian Bliss is scheduled to arrive at the AJ Dock at 1:30 p.m. Monday, bringing the first of what local officials project — with uncertainty — will be a million or more cruise passengers after the sharp decline of the past two years. City Tourism Manager Alexandra Pierce said an official welcoming ceremony is planned, although a modest one.
“We thought it was the tenor that was appropriate for the occasion rather than having a massive party,” she said. She noted it will be a couple of weeks before cruise activity is going full force, and “the community is still getting ready to have visitors back again in a big way.”
“I think our local shops and businesses will do a great job of welcoming cruise ship passengers all summer,” Pierce said.
Liz Perry, president and CEO of Travel Juneau, told the city Finance Committee “I’m happy to report our partners are cautiously optimistic about the restart for this coming tourism season.”
She said about 500 people participated in a local travel fair during the past weekend, and a survey of people elsewhere planning to travel shows they are interested in smaller, more remote locations – and COVID-19 is no longer a foremost concern.
“They are more concerned about costs of travel and gas prices,” she said.
The Norwegian Bliss can accommodate up to 4,000 passengers and 1,700 crewmembers, but Southeast Alaska tourism and municipal officials are projecting ships are likely to be 30% to 50% capacity at the start of the season, and gradually increase to capacity or near-capacity as the summer progresses.
Among those downtown eager to welcome visitors is Heather Sincic, a Juneau resident since 2002 and owner of Franklin Street Barbers since 2015, who’s beyond-the-usual location and lure is a collection of restored historic photos by Paul Sincic, her father-in-law. He came to Alaska in 1937 and became famous for his photos throughout the state and region until his death in 1998, after which Sincic said “I purchased everything from the estate the museum didn’t want.”
“It’s been dormant for two years,” she said, referring to summer tourism activity. “I just hope when the visitors come through they take a shot. I just try and capture history. I don’t know what people are going to buy.”
Sincic said four local businesses are in some way involved in the restoration, reprinting and online marketing of the photos. While tourism is a small part of her overall businesses, she is rooting for a responsible return to normal.
“I hope we don’t make mistakes,” she said. “I hope we don’t take on more than we can accommodate, that we have both happy tourists and a happy environment.”
In a news release, the city tourism bureau listed several things for residents “to expect and keep in mind:”
■ Busy large ship days are generally Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with some high volume Monday and Thursday afternoons in July and August.
■ Encounters with tour groups are likely at Mendenhall Glacier, on the water near Auke Bay, and on hiking trails and parks where commercial-use permits are granted. Those include Amalga Meadows Beach Access (Kayak Beach); Auke Lake Launch Ramp/Parking Access; Brotherhood Parking Lot; Channel Wayside Park; Ernest Gruening State Park; Homestead Park; Last Chance Basin; Mendenhall Glacier trails: Steep Creek Trail, East Glacier, West Glacier, Moraine Ecology, Nugget Falls, and Trail of Time; Overstreet Park; Perseverance Trail system; Powerline Trail; Rainforest Trail; Tolch Rock; Treadwell Historic Trail; and Upper Mount Roberts Trail (above the Goldbelt Tram).
■ Whale watch tours operate from a designated commercial use dock in Don D. Statter Harbor with its own parking and drop-off area, and the boats will be in waters around Auke Bay. Such tours operate under strict environmental guidelines and those with concerns about violations can contact the specific tour operator, call the Tourism Best Management Practices hotline at (907) 586-6774 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
■ All large cruise ships sailing in Alaska are operating under port agreements with Juneau and other ports that require a 95% COVID-19 vaccination rate for passengers and crew, on-board quarantine and isolation protocols, and other preventative measures. The port agreements require cruise lines to have emergency response plans and evacuation procedures for passengers too sick to remain on board in quarantine, which can include sending patients to Bartlett Regional Hospital or a medevac to a larger hospital.
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com.