The MS Nieuw Amsterdam sails into Juneau on July 26, 2021. On Monday night, city leaders reviewed the results of a community survey aimed at learning more about community attitudes about the impact of large cruise ships. (Dana Zigmund/Juneau Empire)

Tourism survey yields ‘remarkable,’ ‘interesting’ data

Questionnaire shows little movement in public opinion despite visitor surge

An earlier version of this article included an incorrect number for one of the phone-based survey results. The numbers have been updated.

A new survey shows that most people in Juneau believe that the cruise industry provides more positive impact than negative and 56% of respondents support Norwegian Cruise Line’s proposal to develop a dock for large cruise ships on its waterfront property on Egan Drive.

At Monday evening’s Committee of the Whole meeting, the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly members heard the long-awaited results from the city’s tourism surveys conducted earlier this year.

At the behest of the Visitor Industry Task Force established by Mayor Beth Weldon, the city commissioned the survey work this summer. McKinley Research Group conducted the two surveys this fall — the first tourism-focused surveys in 15 years.

The survey results revealed that attitudes toward tourism have not changed much since 2002 and that most Juneau residents believe cruise ship tourism is better than not for their households.

[An abbreviated cruise season by the numbers]

“Really, these responses did not change very much. It might seem boring, but it’s pretty remarkable that these responses are so consistent,” Heather Haugland, a consultant with the McKinley Research Group, told CBJ Assembly members.

However, the open-to-all online survey reflected a harsher view of the industry than the statistically valid phone survey of 502 residents. Each survey asked the same questions with minor wording differences to accommodate differences between phone-based on online surveys.

Haugland said that while attitudes remained consistent over the years, the number of tourists arriving on cruise ships grew significantly during that time.

She said the passenger load has almost doubled–growing from 742,000 in 2002 to 951,000 in 2006 and 1.3 million people in 2019. The 2019 season was the last year Juneau experienced a typical season before COVID-19 halted all cruise travel in 2020 and led to a truncated 2021 season that only included about 10% of the passengers that arrive in a typical cruise season.

“It was very interesting that the responses have stayed pretty close even while the number of passengers has increased dramatically,” said Assembly member Michelle Bonnet Hale in an email to the Empire on Tuesday. “I don’t know which of several factors might be at play here. It might be that the best management practices are working well so the impacts are lessened. It may also be a change in demographics and employment in Juneau, as state jobs have lessened and tourism jobs have increased.”

City leaders are digesting the results as industry experts predict a robust rebound of cruise ship traffic in 2022, In addition, assembly members can turn their attention back to the recommendations of the 2019 Visitor Industry Task Force after COVID-19 postponed work on that front.

Late last week, Alexandra Pierce, a longtime CBJ employee, was named the CBJ Tourism Manager — a new post suggested by the task force.

In addition, assembly members are considering whether to tax purchases made on board large cruise ships when they are plying CBJ’s waters.

[Cruise critics reflect on a shortened season]

Discussions about permits for the NCL site are expected to ramp up in the spring, and negotiations for the city-owned, adjacent tideland properties will begin in January, according to a timeline Pierce shared at the meeting.

Assembly member Carole Triem said it was great to get the report because the survey represents another task force recommendation that assembly members have implemented.

“The results of the survey really closely mirrored what we heard from the public during the VITF process, especially about specific impacts, opinions on the NCL dock, and the ‘ideal’ number of ships. That doesn’t surprise me, but it was nice to have that validated by a randomized survey,” Triem said. “Something that was surprising to me was how similar the results of this survey are to the 2006 survey. Attitudes about tourism don’t seem to have changed much in the past 15 years, even though we’re seeing so many more passengers every year. I hope that points to management successes over that time.”

But, not everyone agreed with Triem’s assessment.

Karla Hart, a Juneau resident and co-founder of the Global Cruise Activist Network, said the survey prompted more questions than it provided answers.

“More was left out of the survey than offered in terms of analysis and raw data,” Hart said in an email. “That always leaves me highly suspicious.”

Hart noted that she was speaking as an individual and not a member of Juneau Cruise Control, a group that proposed a trio of ballot initiatives to limit cruise ships in Juneau. Organizers withdrew the measures after falling short of the required signatures.

Hart also questioned the city’s decision to use McKinley for the work, citing past work with the cruise industry.

“Obviously the questions, and wording of questions, influence the results,” Hart said.

[Small businesses still struggling due to effect on travel]

Survey says

The survey had two components — an online survey that was open to anyone interested and attracted 1,924 responses — and a phone component, which used a combination of cellphone and landline numbers to reach a sample reflective of Juneau’s demographics.

Respondent demographics were different for the two surveys. In the online survey, responses from residents Downtown or in Thane, Douglas and West Juneau, North Douglas, and the area near Brotherhood Bridge and the area commonly referred to as Out the Road were overrepresented relative to Juneau’s population distribution. In addition, online respondents tended to be older, with women submitting more online surveys than men.

Overall, downtown and Thane residents reported more negative impacts.

“People who feel the impact were more likely to take the survey,” Haugland said.

Both surveys asked the same top-line question, which read: “Thinking back to 2019, the last regular visitor season before COVID,do you feel the visitor industry had an overall positive impact, negative impact, both negative and positive impacts, or no impact at all on your household?”

In the phone survey results, 36% of respondents said that tourism positively impacted their household in 2019, 33% reported both positive and negative effects, 20% reported no household impact, and 8% said it had a negative impact. An additional 2% said they did not know. For those who reported positive and negative effects, 51% said that good outweighed the bad.

In the online survey results, 26% of respondents said that tourism positively impacted their household in 2019, 48% reported both positive and negative effects, 3% reported no household impact, and 23% said it had a negative impact. For those who reported positive and negative effects, 47% said that bad outweighed the good.

Top complaints in both surveys include congested sidewalks downtown, crowding at the Mendenhall Glacier and vehicle congestion downtown.

Across the board, survey respondents support limiting the number of large cruise ships in town each day. Phone respondents prefer 4.2 ships per day — the same number reported in 2006, according to Haugland. Online respondents prefer 3.7 per day.

Haugland presented the data from each survey separately — a decision Hart criticized.

Hart said the consolidation would have made it easier to absorb and consider the data.

When asked, “do you think the City and Borough of Juneau is doing more than enough, not enough, or just the right amount to manage the impacts of the visitor industry?” phone respondents were split with 45% saying “not enough,” 39% saying “the right amount” and 7% saying “more than enough.” In addition, 9% said they didn’t know.

In the online survey, 68% of respondents said the city is not doing enough, 17% said the city is doing the right amount, 9% said the city does too much, and 7% said they didn’t know.

According to Haugland, this finding is very similar to results in prior surveys but shows modest improvements.

“Public opinion about whether CBJ does enough to manage the impacts of tourism improves from 2002 to 2006 to 2021, but it’s a slow improvement and we need to move that needle a lot faster,” Triem said in an email to the Empire Tuesday morning.

In a Monday interview before the presentation, Pierce said the finding about the city’s role was particularly interesting to her.

“That tells me we do need to continue to do the work and become any more proactive,” Pierce said. “The result that’s been consistent is that people think the city needs to do more and we hear that. We are working on that,” she said.

Assembly member Christine Woll said the finding about the city’s role jumped out at her, too.

“The survey confirms for me that the majority of Juneau sees the benefits of the tourism industry in Juneau but want to ensure certain checks are put in place to mitigate the impacts on quality of life,” Woll said in an email Tuesday. “Juneau citizens want the city to do more to mitigate these impacts and bring more local benefits. Investments in bringing more independent travelers and limiting the number of ships that visit Juneau in some way were two things that jumped out as having strong support.”

New dock

While many of the questions were throwbacks to older surveys, one of the new survey questions addressed the proposal from NCL to build a cruise ship dock on its waterfront property on Egan Drive — a project that the city must approve before construction can move forward. City leaders have discussed the need for additional public input around the process and the issue received a stand-alone question in the survey.

The question read: Norwegian Cruise Lines purchased land at the Subport, between the Coast Guard base and Gold Creek, to develop a dock for large cruise ships. The dock is currently designed for one side to be used by large cruise ships and the other by the U.S. Coast Guard and Fish and Wildlife Service. What is your level of support or opposition to Norwegian Cruise Line constructing a new cruise ship dock at the subport?”

In the phone survey, 39% said they were “supportive,” 17% said “very supportive,” 19% said they were “opposed,” 14% said they were “very opposed,” and 10% said they didn’t know.

Those who reported opposition were asked, “Would your level of support increase if the dock project incorporated any of the following elements?” The top three responses included a cap of five large ships a day, a public park and an interpretive ocean center.

In the online survey, 20% said they were “supportive, 20% said they were “very supportive,” 21% were “opposed,” and 26% were “very opposed.”

Contact reporter Dana Zigmund at or 907-308-4891.

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