Is capping cruise ship visitors a good idea?



The idea of imposing a cap on the number of cruise ships and visitors allowed in Juneau has once again been raised.  The concept was last seriously discussed when Juneau hosted around 500,000 cruise ship visitors.  This past summer season 1.3 million cruise visitors were served – certainly a healthy increase.

While there are impacts from cruise ships, the economic benefits are substantial. Cruise visitors spend over $200 million annually in Juneau and Juneau’s municipal budget gains $25 million yearly directly through sales taxes (that can be spent on anything from schools to streets) as well as passenger and port fees. 

Despite assertions 20 years ago that further tourism growth in Juneau was unsustainable, impacts as evidenced by resident complaints have substantially decreased in the interim.  Prior to 2000, complaints to the tourism hotline routinely exceeded 250 calls over the course of the visitor season.  In the last 10 years, total hotline calls have averaged only 50 calls per season – a 90% decrease – an average of 10 calls per month.

This dramatic improvement in managing impacts is attributable to the cooperative efforts of Juneau tour operators, cruise lines, transportation providers and the City and Borough of Juneau (CBJ).  Begun in 1997, a program called Tourism Best Management Practices (TBMP), was established to minimize the impacts of tourism.

Since then, TMBP has formed partnerships with the U.S.  Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Park Service. If anything, it’s become a model for other cruise ports – especially in SE Alaska – where a half dozen other communities are considering establishing similar programs. 

The legal and logistical obstacles in promulgating and enforcing a limit on cruise visitors is a significant concern.  Would we try to limit the small “niche” cruises or just the big ships?  Which ones? And whose grandmother will be denied a once-in-a-lifetime cruise to Alaska?

Furthermore, at the very time Juneau has successfully resolved a contentious lawsuit and re-established a working relationship with the cruise industry, this effort will undermine cooperative efforts going forward.

It should be noted that while the impacts of Juneau cruise ship visitors are spread over 32,000 residents, our neighboring town of Hoonah with its 760 residents hosted 138 ships carrying 250,000 cruise visitors – almost eight times the Juneau per capita visitation.  

The impacts can be managed. The question is how.

Imposing a cap is akin to using a sledgehammer when a flyswatter will suffice.  The TMBP program has identified several areas for continuing improvement this year, including impacts of whale-watching and traffic congestion.  Doesn’t it make more sense to mitigate specific identified impacts instead of penalizing every business and family in Juneau whose livelihoods depend on cruise visitor spending?

The irony should not be lost on us that many amenities Juneau residents enjoy are directly attributable to the growth in the cruise industry – such as the seawalk, improved downtown streets, expansive docks, downtown parks, and improved harbor facilities and parking. 

Dozens of small businesspeople in Juneau have invested their life savings and sweat equity to establish restaurants, breweries, food trucks, and gift stores, many of which wouldn’t be open year-round if not for the influx of summer visitors.

Despite TMBP’s successes, it will never be able to totally eliminate all impacts to all residents. For most of us, this is the trade-off we make in order to sustain a vital component of our economy that provides so much to our community.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t always be looking for better ways to manage growth.  We all need to recognize the challenges and we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about how best to manage tourism impacts. Towards that end, Mayor Weldon has established a task force to determine whether the city’s current approach to managing tourism is effective.

No doubt, the controversial topic of limiting the number of cruise ship visitors will be discussed.

But the path forward lies not in ending the successful TBMP program but continuing to improve it.  That should be the focus of the Mayor’s Task Force in the months ahead.

That’s the way we’ll make Juneau a great place to visit, but more importantly, a great place to live.

Win Gruening retired as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in 2012. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is active in community affairs as a 30-plus year member of Juneau Downtown Rotary Club and has been involved in various local and statewide organizations.


  1. It’s a great idea!
    If the idea succeeds, the “cap” concept should be extended to lobbyists, state government employees, city employees, school district employees, non-profit organizations, property and sales tax tax-exemption beneficiaries… for starters.
    This could work!

  2. Be careful what you wish for, Juneau. All it takes is a slight turn of the wheel for the cruise ships to pass your community by. They will, most likely refuse to take a limitation on their ships. Remember what the cruise lines did in Haines? Haines tried to pull the same type of stunts several years back. What happened? Haines doesn’t have any cruise ship traffic now. Nor does Wrangell, unless it just restarted. Same type of reaction to prosperity and the cruise lines from those communities. That what you want for your community? The community that has become so prosperous from cruise ship “deplorables”? Think twice before you tell the cruise lines you don’t really want them anymore. They’ll probably take you up on it. They don’t like doing business with people who dislike them.

  3. The Juneau Death Wish at work again! Former AMHS director and Knowles Chief of Staff Jim Ayers was touting this in the Juneau Empire a few days ago. Jim left State government for a high-level position with OCEANA, the environmental group, so his bona fides with Juneau’s lunatic left are impeccable. Jim is more the practical apparatchik than the typical rabidly emotional lefty. I can’t say we were ever pals but we could be in the same room without fur flying and my oldest stepson played on Jim’s baseball teams. I still don’t really know if Jim let Bob Poe hire me back to the Department of Administration because he had an interest in cleaning up the mess that Mark Boyer had made of State labor relations or because he wanted my kid to pitch for him.

    Anyway, Juneau’s crazy lefties have made possible the decapitation of State government in Juneau, at least during Republican administrations. Since Palin took office any Republican elected or appointed official who could maintain their office in Anchorage and appear in Juneau only as it was necessary to deal with the Legislative Session has done so. Why subject yourself to the crazy lefties in Juneau? Juneau’s service and retail economy looks a lot different when there are no division directors and commissioners there nor any of their immediate staff and subordinates. You don’t pay the freight on fancy restaurants and upscale retailers with the wages of State Range 12 to 16 or 18 delivery of service employees. Except during the session Juneau’s government presence is more like a regional center than a Capital city. Last I looked only a couple of commissioners maintained their primary office there, and that pulls a lot of high-level employees away. Even Walker only made sure some visible and well-known Juneau lefties got jobs and offices there and pretty much let the rest of his government be in Anchorage. On the government side both State and federal high-level employees are in Anchorage except for visits. That gives the left the ideal social system based on government jobs that pay only enough to keep you comfortably uncomfortable , transfer payments to fashionably leftist non-profits, and transfer payments to reliably leftist social services providers. The only way anybody can get higher up the food chain is to elect Democrats.

    The tourism industry has made already anti-development Juneau even more anti-development. Nobody takes a cruise to SE Alaska to see its mines, lumber mills, logging operations, or fishing fleets. In fact, the only way you can have development in Southeast is to make it invisible. The mining industry has learned that lesson well; cruise ships sail right by Green’s Creek and Kensington and tourists never even know there is an evil mine there.

    So, Juneau takes one more step towards the third world; a few well-off apparatchiks during Democrat times, a few rich owners in tourism, and a lot of just getting by low and mid-level government employees and a poor and transient retail and service workforce. It’s kinda’ like the Mexican cruise ship ports.

    • Art, interesting that you brought up the name, Mark Boyer. He made a mess as the city manager in Fairbanks too. Union backed all the way, Boyer had no hands-on experience with union’s other than he pimped himself out to union bosses in order to climb the political ladder. A true sleazebag!

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