Opinion: Cruise initiatives risk future of Juneau businesses

  • Friday, April 23, 2021 5:47pm
  • Opinion

By Liz Perry

Travel Juneau has one mission: market the community to conventions, groups, and independent travelers. While we’re charged with putting “heads in beds,” the fact is independent visitors benefit from the activities and infrastructure cruise guests enjoy. For this reason, Travel Juneau is duty-bound to advocate for our small- business partners, about 85% of which depend on cruise passengers booking with independent operators and shopping at locally-owned retailers. Home-grown businesses will be harmed should Juneau CAN Rethink Tourism’s initiatives gain traction.

Juneau CAN Rethink Tourism’s proposed initiatives claim to restore balance to Juneau’s visitor industry by imposing a curfew of ships carrying more than 250 passengers; no port calls on Saturdays; and the exclusion of ships over 100,000 gross tons beginning in 2026. These proposals are flawed and misinformed.

First, the group insists on returning to the mid-1990s when the oil industry provided significant revenue to Alaska’s communities. Alaska’s economy grew and tourism was a small industry. As oil production and prices have fallen, Juneau permanently lost 600 state jobs between 2014-2019 and the region lost another 300 state jobs in 2020 (Source: Raincoast Data). Considering limited manufacturing and other business options, the visitor industry provided Juneauites economic opportunities for their families. So, the backward-gazing notion that “we did fine without cruise ships” gives a false sense of what the economic and community landscape will look like in the future. Many younger Juneauites have built businesses and have become leaders in the industry, but now, facing the prospect of losing their livelihoods, may well move out of state.

The group also states that the COVID-induced “pause” in the industry should be used to overhaul it by eliminating an entire class of vessels over 100,000 gross tons. This will only result in Juneau being taken off itineraries or becoming a second-tier destination: newer vessels are over 100K gross tons, but are equipped with state-of-the-art fuel efficiencies, environmental controls, and safety technologies. If banned, lines will likely deploy older ships until they permanently removed from service. Other Alaskan ports will benefit from Juneau’s loss.

Cruises also provide guests a sampler of destinations, from which Juneau benefits in future independent travelers. McDowell Research (now McKinley) shows that about 25% of Juneau’s independent travelers first visit on a cruise then return to spend more time. JCAN doesn’t acknowledged that we enjoy year-round events, restaurants, and retail because of our vibrant summer season. More importantly, our community benefits from year-round medivac services, a solid regional hospital, libraries, pools, parks, trails, medical, public transport, and arts opportunities because of the revenue generated during the summer. Under the scenario the initiatives represent, Juneauites will have a fairly short time to decide which city services – some of them life-saving – they’re fine with cutting from the budget. These, too, are quality of life issues.

Juneau’s city leadership is already addressing concerns about the visitor industry. In 2019, Mayor Weldon’s Visitor Industry Task Force was charged with addressing community concerns and spent considerable time and effort meeting and taking public testimony. Their recommendations to address stressors have been forwarded to the City Manager. However, the group’s spokesperson, by her own admission, refused to engage with the VITF. Rather than provide CBJ leadership the opportunity to act on the VITF’s recommendations, which includes the excellent work done by Tourism Best Management Practices, the group has decided only they know what is best for Juneau’s future by looking to the past.

And what will that future look like? Our marketing partners are overwhelmingly small businesses that rely on a mix of independent and cruise visitors. Cutting off the cruise industry won’t hurt the cruise industry, but will cost Juneau most of its visitor businesses, affecting the experiences of independent travelers and meeting attendees. Further, Juneau non-profits depend upon our tourism businesses for fundraising items and experiences for their clients, and will be left empty-handed. The very businesses that form the fabric of our community – owned by our friends and neighbors who also employ thousands of locals – will be gone, taking down locally-grown experiences for fully independent travelers and our visiting friends and relatives.

We encourage Juneauites to carefully consider the ramifications of these initiatives before signing any petition.

• Liz Perry is president and CEO of Travel Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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