Many in Juneau don’t know this but our community is actually a model for destinations around the world on how to responsibly manage tourism. I would like to share with you some of what I learned working many years in the industry, although having left my job in March, I am sharing no one’s opinion but my own.
There is no question, hosting over a million visitors a year has impacts on our community. What really makes Juneau shine is how city leaders, the industry and the local community have come together over the years to continually look for ways to improve the local quality of life.
Twenty-five years ago, a program was initiated to help manage growth in the visitor industry. This program, Tourism Best Management Practice has grown from just a handful of guidelines to nearly 100. Kirby Day, the program manager, challenges members every year to find new and better ways to be good community partners. It is not just a commitment; it is a passion. One of the best parts of the program is the hotline, where anyone can call in if they see a violation and not only will it be addressed immediately, you will get a response back. This program has been so effective, numerous other communities in Southeast as well as other destinations around the world are looking to replicate it.
Did you know that Juneau was the first place in the world large cruise ships could plug in to shore power and turn off their engines? The technology was pioneered right here. While Juneau remains as the only port in Southeast with this capability, numerous other ports around the world now offer this benefit. The city and industry continue to evaluate the feasibility of expanding to additional berths.
Another example is that each year, the industry and city meet to discuss needs as part of the city manager’s budget development process. The city retains local control, but it is a great example of collaboration. The industry brings in nearly $30 million a year in local taxes to support so many local services such as police, fire, parks and rec, etc. In addition, think about all the wonderful infrastructure we can now enjoy as locals including the seawalk, whale park, utility infrastructure which has helped reduce water and electrical rates, and improvements at Statter Harbor. Work continues at Statter Harbor to further reduce conflicts between commercial and private activities and Docks and Harbors should be highly commended for carrying out their vision.
The city has always been open to new and better ideas. That is why Mayor Weldon formed the Visitor Industry Task Force. She wanted an open process to evaluate how the city was doing managing tourism and provided new opportunities for the public to bring ideas forward. After extensive review of all tourism management programs and receiving public comments, the group put forward numerous recommendations. Some were aimed at reducing congestion downtown such as providing greater transparency on scheduling, separating out ship arrivals at least 30 minutes apart, and looking for new opportunities such as Eaglecrest to raise revenue and disperse visitors. The city is developing an implementation plan for the many task force recommendations.
When you look at all that has been done, it is easy to see why Juneau is a model for other destinations. We are on the right course, but we are by no means done yet. There is a lot more work to do and all the very dedicated locals working so hard to continue to find improvements should be given the ability to further their work.
In the next week you may be asked to sign a petition to restrict visitors and I would ask you please kindly decline and let the good work in place continue. There have and always will be more productive ways to weigh in and impact local policy.
• Mike Tibbles resides in Juneau. He previously worked for Cruise Lines International Association — Alaska.