In the Empire’s May 7 article, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Howard Sherman, executive vice-president onboard revenue and destination development, reinforced many of the points of the cruise initiative sponsors and signers. Sherman’s words are in quotes.
1) “Southeast Alaska is uniquely dependent on the cruise industry.” This is not a good thing. The cruise industry is highly consolidated and vertically integrated. They are in the business of generating profits for their shareholders. Increasing volume and decreasing costs are key strategies.
2) “Alaska is an attractive destination for travelers, but [Sherman] suspects passenger load is close to the cap.” So there is a cap, it is just not for the residents of the home rule community of Juneau to decide?
3) “I don’t anticipate much incremental traffic growth.” What is “incremental traffic growth?” Number of ships? Number of passengers? Anticipate?
4) “Mathematically we are near the peak based on the number of embarkation ports.” Existing Seattle cruise terminals have mid-week capacity that could drive substantial growth, especially when combined with new Alaska docks. Replacing smaller ships with larger has driven much growth.
5) “Juneau is an ‘integral’ destination in Alaska and has been for some time. Still, if restrictions made it too onerous to visit, Juneau would likely get bypassed in future itineraries.” Here Sherman acknowledges that the industry can adjust their itineraries, respect limits Juneau may impose, and not abandon the region.
6) “There is a one-to-one correlation of people who want to visit Alaska and who want to visit Juneau. But, it’s not a birthright.” Exactly, people who really want to visit Juneau can come independently or select one of the cruises that respect Juneau residents’ right to home rule. Like Glacier Bay, which has limits, cruises which come to Juneau are likely to be sought after, especially if we stand out as not overcrowded.
7) “100,000 gross tons would send older, less efficient ships to Juneau.” We want ships that place focus on their destinations. Mega-ships are designed as attractions in themselves to capture maximum shipboard revenues from all passengers. Companies can change ship orders from mega-ships to ships under 100,000 gross tonnage. Oceania, Regent, and Holland America brand ships are all under 100,000 gross tonnage. Burn clean fuel instead of dirty fuel that requires scrubbers, which dump pollutants into our waters. Invest in better environmental operations instead of roller coasters and race tracks.
8) “When you get new ships, people pay more to sail aboard those ships, and those passengers are better able to purchase high-value packages when they arrive in town, like the whale watching tours and the helicopter rides to the ice fields.” Those high-value packages generate the high-impacts on quality of life, throughout Juneau. Some profit, many pay.
9) From the mouth of the executive vice-president of onboard revenue: “older ships attract a different type of traveler – more budget conscious travelers, get off boat and buy two beers and a t-shirt.”
10) “Juneau has the most vigorous public engagement of any place I’ve been in the world. For example, the Visitor Industry Taskforce received hundreds of comments and made fantastic recommendations.” The recommendations failed to meaningfully respond to the key critical comments of overcapacity and impacts and recommended a fifth dock, though prior public processes had decided against a cruise dock. Would Sherman call the recommendations fantastic if they recommended limiting Juneau to four docks?
11) The Key West limits on cruise tourism, which passed with more than 60% vote, were not declared unlawful. Cruise interests are attempting a political end run to remove direct democracy from residents of Florida communities, instead of going to the courts to clearly establish whether the Key West charter amendments are legal.
I urge Juneau voters to sign the initiative petitions. The assembly can adopt laws before October to address community concerns and make City Charter amendments unnecessary. Will they? Without the initiatives, we are unlikely to see actions that meaningfully address concerns about overtourism and adverse community impacts.
• Karla Hart is a sponsors of the cruise initiatives, a former owner of Juneau tourism businesses, and a longtime participant in public processes that shape Juneau.