Pedestrians walk along South Franklin Street in July 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Pedestrians walk along South Franklin Street in July 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: The tourism cabal looks out for itself

“The problem is that there are simply too many tourists.”

  • Tuesday, May 25, 2021 10:04am
  • Opinion

By Ray Preston

Governmental dysfunction occurs not only at the federal level, but at the local level as well. In recent years, the growth of tourism (make that cruise ship passengers) has grown dramatically. The following table of cruise ship passenger numbers is from the City and Borough of Juneau’s own numbers.

Year Cruise ship passengers Year-over-year change by percentage
2015 977,157 N/A
2016 1,00,819 2.42%
2017 1,055,245 5.44%
2018 1,128,626 6.95%
2019 1,283,853


Note that the percentage increase from 2018 to 2019 is almost twice the increase from the previous year. Before the pandemic intervened, Juneau had become an example of over tourism, mega tourism, the Barcelona of the North. Juneau is a tourist ghetto. Locals avoid downtown like the plague during the season and as soon as the season ends it becomes a ghost town.

The pandemic intervened, but starting next year, everyone involved is assuming that things will return to normal, cruise ship wise. And that’s the problem. The problem is that there are simply too many tourists. But there is another problem. The other problem is that our mayor and assembly have never acknowledged that there is a problem.

And why is that? I suggest that the reason is that at least when it comes to tourism, the mayor and assembly are not looking out for you or me or the larger community. Rather, there is a cabal. Wikipedia defines a cabal as “… a group of people who are united in some close design, usually to promote their private views or interests …” The Juneau Tourism Cabal includes the mayor and assembly and owners of tourist-oriented businesses. The tourism cabal looks out for itself.

Evidence of the existence of the cabal may be seen in the tourism task force created by the mayor. The task force was loaded with members of the cabal and its mission was to preserve the status quo. It was a diversion.

So, when the cruise ship initiatives made their appearance, the mayor cannot complain. There is a direct line of causation from her denialism and inaction to the appearance of the initiatives.

I hope the voters of Juneau are smart enough to save themselves from the cabal.

• Ray Preston resides in 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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