Passengers of the Norwegian Bliss look out across downtown Juneau as they wait to disembark on April 17, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

Passengers of the Norwegian Bliss look out across downtown Juneau as they wait to disembark on April 17, 2023. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)

My Turn: Juneau’s economy is not on the line — Ship-Free Saturdays is about better balance

Judging by the “Save Juneau” posters one would think that Juneau’s economic well-being is at stake with the initiative to have one day a week without large cruise ships. According to McKinley Research Group which did a cruise industry specific analysis for CBJ, cruise-related employment represented 18% of Juneau’s 2023 employment. This is a significant number. But when one looks at the travel and hospitality sector as compared to other sectors of our economy, the industry’s significance may be less than that cited in the McKinley report.

According to JEDC’s 2023 Economic Indicators report, the travel and hospitality sector comprises 9% of Juneau’s overall monthly employment. We have three economic sectors contributing more — state government, local and tribal government and retail trade. When total earnings by industry sector is examined, the travel and hospitality sector contributes only 4% to Juneau’s overall wages. This means that these nine industry sectors — state government, local and tribal government, mining, health care, transportation, construction, professional services, federal government and retail trade — all generate more wages than the travel and hospitality sector.

The bottom line is that while cruise ships do make a notable contribution to our local economy, our economy is diversified enough to absorb a slight adjustment to the number of cruise ships visiting Juneau. Without ships on Saturdays we would be at approximately 1.5 million visitors each summer which is still more than we had in 2022 or before the pandemic. I don’t remember our economy tanking then. It didn’t then and it won’t now.

Yet, I expect the “doom and gloom” messaging will persist given the confrontational history of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). As I noted previously the cruise ship industry undid a citizen’s initiative on clean water, challenged the cruise ship head tax in court and then sued CBJ over spending tax receipts on the Seawalk. And most recently, CLIA challenged CBJ’s use of marine passenger fees for additional bus drivers, expanding public wifi and issuing a clean energy loan. Knowing CLIA’s pattern of playing hardball it’s not surprising that the cruise industry is using scare tactics to keep the question of Ship-Free Saturdays off the ballot.

Please know that Juneau’s economy is not on the line. It’s not about Saving Juneau. It’s simply about better balance. I and my children have all worked in the tourism trade and have benefited from the industry. As such, I have no desire to upend the economic contributions made to Juneau. I just want better balance and consequently view Ship-Free Saturdays as a step in this direction.

Working families in particular need a chance in the summer months to experience why we live here…to enjoy downtown, to hike a trail at the glacier, or watch whales without a dozen encircling boats. And although I am retired and can get out more than working families, I too would appreciate a day without diesel-belching buses and pollution hovering over downtown. At a minimum I want the discussion to continue which means signing the petition to put the question before Juneau residents. Don’t be scared off. Please join me in signing the petition.

• Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 24 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Juneau.

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