I’m grateful that the COVID-19 tourism pause gives us an opportunity to evaluate our priorities and redefine tourism in Juneau. I welcome independent travelers and families discovering the beauty in our urban wild and am excited about the small ship cruises returning next month. I appreciate our downtown walkway views of water and sky no longer obliterated by ships taller than our buildings unloading numbers of people that don’t fit on our streets.
Our new Juneau is the kind of place travelers search for in their quest to visit Alaska. In fact, large ship cruisers often vote Sitka their favorite port, the place they want to return and spend more time and money as an independent traveler, and Juneau’s downtown has a reputation for being overcrowded and a duplicate of non-local stores dominating the tourist trade.
The tourism pause provides us an opportunity to move forward with new plans and approaches that match this decade, rather than simply return to how things were before. I appreciate the Juneau community coming together to prioritize how we can attract more travelers beyond large cruise lines, and how we can reach a balance of tourism economy without giving away our downtown again in ways that don’t serve our community or our tourists. This pause is a gift to take stock and try something different.
Let’s figure out a way to make Juneau a favorite destination, and one where community and tourism thrive in balance for the total good. People who want to experience the real Alaska don’t choose it for perfume, T-shirts or non-local jewelry, so why do we have so many closed storefronts all winter to accommodate those profits? When I first moved here in winter ’92, our downtown was thriving with restaurants and shops open year round. Sadly, I probably would not have chosen Juneau if I’d considered it for my home in this last decade — especially if I’d visited in the summer. And I can see why we are not attracting residents because we have not preserved and cultivated what makes Juneau rich.
Why not develop Eaglecrest, and perhaps other areas, with cabins rustic to five-star, an inn, café, five-star restaurant, convenience store and electric tram service so it could boom but not overflow with travelers year round who want a more natural Alaskan experience?
As a retiree, a town without large cruise ships is the kind of town I want to remain in. Let’s give our travelers and our current and future residents reasons to choose us. There is no reason to go back when there is so much benefit to move forward together.
• Maureen Longworth is a retiree. She resides in Juneau.