The Visitor Industry Task Force met in a packed Assembly chamber at City Hall Tuesday to further discuss how the city can manage the growing number of tourists arriving each year.
Seats in the audience were nearly full by the start of the meeting, with roughly 30 people in attendance. Tuesday was the task force’s first meeting with a clearly identified goal on the agenda: “Is the current approach to managing the visitor industry adequate to make Juneau an attractive place to live and to visit?”
To that end the task force heard from six experts from the U.S. Forest Service, the city, the tourism industry and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to understand how each deals with tourism locally.
“We have to find ways to do better every year,” said Kirby Day. Day is both a member of the task force and the Tourism Best Management Practices program. TBMP is a cooperation between the City and Borough of Juneau, tour operators, cruise lines and other businesses associated with tourism.
The program runs the tourism hotline where residents can raise issues about the tourism industry. Having that interaction Day said, fostered good communication between the community and the industry and adds a personal connection that can go a long way to ease tensions.
“When you get on the phone with someone,” Day said. “You generally come away with a better understanding and those issues get resolved.”
But the questions of “teeth” came up; how much power does TBMP actually have to enforce its guidelines. The program is not a regulatory body and issues no fines. All it can do is notify a tour operator of a complaint or a violation of its guidelines. The closest thing TBMP has in terms of enforcement, according to Day, is that membership in the group is a pre-requisite for certain operating permits from the city.
President of Wings Airways Holly Johnson, who is also on the task force, said peer pressure among tour groups goes a long way. When one tour operator is notified of a violation, all tour operators hear about it she said.
But local community activist Paula Terrel was not entirely convinced TBMP was solving what she views as one of the main issues with tourism — there’s simply too much of it.
While Terrel said she thought everything TBMP does was good, the program, “doesn’t address the elephant in the room: how much is too much?”
Also presenting at the meeting was Drew Green, port manager for the Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, a liason group that helps to manage cruise ship schedules throughout Alaska.
“The sky is not the limit,” when it comes to cruise ship capacity in Juneau, Green said. There were only two days of the year where there was a free berth in Juneau, he said.
“We’ve filled up all the spots,” Green said of Juneau’s cruise ship berths. “Except for apparently one more,” he said in reference to the proposed Norwegian Cruise Lines’ dock currently being discussed.
James King of the U.S. Forest Service presented on plans to expand the Medenhall Galcier Visior Center and Suzie Teerlink, a biologist with NOAA talked about the Whale SENSE whale watching guide. Michele Elfers from the CBJ Parks and Recreation Department briefly covered permitting and Scott Hinton from Docks and Harbors covered fees paid by the industry.
At the end of the meeting Terrel said in the future she’d like to hear more about potential solutions than the number of issues surrounding the tourism industry.
Carole Triem, chair of the task force agreed.
Public comment meetings are scheduled for Jan. 11 and 16, and the more specific people can make their comments, the more it will help the task force, Triem said.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.