Win Gruening: The $162 million consequences of cruise ship petitions



Like all communities in Alaska, Juneau is looking forward to emerging from the pandemic stronger and healthier than before.  After a year of hunkering down it’s time to start gearing up to rebuild our relationships, schools, and businesses and get our lives back to normal.  

Why would anyone support actions that would accomplish just the opposite?

I’m referring to the three proposed initiatives amending Juneau’s City Charter to limit cruise ship tourism.  These initiatives would permanently extend the crushing economic consequences wrought by the pandemic that, up to now, have been partially mitigated by temporary federal funding.

  • The first would ban cruise ships with over 250 passengers between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • The second would ban cruise ships over 250 passengers on Saturdays.
  • The third would ban cruise ships over 100,000 gross tons beginning in 2026. 

The initiative language appears simple but obscures the harmful ramifications for local businesses and residents.  

Initiative backers assert that these “modest” proposals only seek industry “balance and restraint”.  They also contend cruise impacts have been ignored by local leaders. 

Neither of these claims hold water.

Besides, it won’t be the cruise lines that suffer the most should these initiatives pass.  It will be Juneau tourism businesses, restaurants, and retailers and hundreds of their employees who take the hit.  

Here’s why.

Ship arrivals and departures are staggered for navigational safety. Cutting ship hours will delay arrivals and require ships to begin boarding crew and passengers for departure as early as 4:30 pm. Who loses?  Our shore excursion workers, downtown cooks, wait staff, dishwashers, bartenders, and shopkeepers who will have fewer customers to serve. Local longshoremen, cab and shuttle drivers and food truck entrepreneurs will lose wages and fewer Juneau students will be able to find summer jobs.

Restricting Saturday port calls will force some ships to bypass Juneau entirely because minimal dock space is available on other weekdays.

But the large ship ban will have the most serious effect.  While these ships comprise only 1/3 of the fleet, they carry 2/3 of all arriving passengers.  

If these initiatives pass, the industry estimates cruise visitation could plunge by over one million passengers by 2026, to around 350,000, the number we hosted nearly 30 years ago.  Based on historical passenger spending patterns, that translates to an annual loss of $162 million to Juneau businesses.

The CBJ budget will be decimated, and current levels of community services and amenities reduced.  The city receives around 20% of its sales tax revenue from cruise passenger spending, plus $16 million in passenger fees, and another $1 million in various taxes, fees and permits. Add local property taxes from visitor-related businesses and these initiatives will mean smaller city budgets, less support for our hospital, schools, police, and firefighters, and possible city layoffs.

Restaurants and retail outlets now able to stay open year-round because of summer tourism will be forced to close part of the year – some will go bankrupt.

Most Juneau residents and elected officials understand that a healthy economy requires trade-offs which is why city leaders have been responsive to citizen concerns.  Mayor Weldon’s Visitor Industry Task Force recently concluded an exhaustive and inclusive process that solicited public testimony over a period of six months.  The Assembly is now reviewing the VITF draft report and plans to begin implementing recommendations addressing industry impacts. 

Furthermore, the proposed initiatives undermine years of collaboration the city and the industry have engaged in since 1997 with the Tourism Best Management Practices (TBMP) program – seen as a model by other Southeast communities that host visitors.

The eleven initiative sponsors justify short-circuiting the work of the citizen-backed task force by saying voters are entitled to decide three questions that neither the public nor the Assembly had a voice in formulating.  

Opinion pieces published by initiative sponsors already contain misrepresentations and distortions of fact. Undoubtedly, the campaign to collect the 3,000 signatures necessary to get these initiatives on the ballot will continue to devolve into an emotional, fact-free litany of misconceptions and half-truths about the industry.

The current deliberative process is working and should be respected. Why scuttle it with a divisive and expensive community battle?

Much is at stake.  As a Juneau voter, before you sign a petition, please get the facts and consider the consequences.

After retiring as the senior vice president in charge of business banking for Key Bank in Alaska, Win Gruening began writing op-eds for local and statewide media. He was born and raised in Juneau and graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1970. He is involved in various local and statewide organizations and currently serves on the board of the Alaska Policy Forum.


  1. I don’t know if these petitions are going to fly, but perhaps the denizens of Juneau are more worried about quality of life while everyone else is worried about the money. The cruise industry is lucrative for some, but they are not our friend. Most of the big ones live in Miami and register their boats in places like Liberia so they don’t have to pay taxes and fees for sailing into US ports. The big ones hold their passengers captive in company owned properties and reap rewards from private tour companies for the privileges which they expect us to shower upon them.
    If we place our faith in the belief that cruise ship companies will be our salvation in the future, I think we are in for disappointment. Our benefit is not in their play books, nor will it show up substantially in our check books. It’s a business designed to maximize its own profits, like oil and mining companies.
    And we now know where that got us.

  2. Then there is the US Constitution. Privileges and Immunities clause or Equal Protection, and our right to move freely between states. Do we decide how many people can enter and exit each state and when? Where will this end? The righteous who propose these unconstitutional measures fail the USA and her constitution.

  3. Greg R

    I couldn’t have explained my feeling on this issue any better. I think after of summer of limited to no cruise traffic the locals have re connected with their town.

    Juneau is a great place and the cruise ship traffic is way over done. Between June and Sept you are dodging cruise bus, you can’t get into many of the restaurants, forget about driving downtown, the locals are just about shut out of having a normal life during the summer months.

    When summer is over the cruise people sail away, the tacky gift shops owners head to Palm Springs, and the town is left for the locals to deal with the problems.

    Win Gruening needs to scale back the cruise ships landing to a reasonable level because I doubt Juneau locals want to go back to what was.

  4. Michael Savitt. Learn how to read. It’s not from legislators. It’s a petition from a small group of anti tourism folks.

  5. Dave Hanna: learn how to think. It’s the legislators that have shut down the economy!
    The Anchorage Assembly lifted some of the emergency orders and one individual in the audience protested against it. There will always be protesters, but ultimately it’s the legislative branch that makes the laws and they have failed miserably!

  6. Central planning of an economy has always been the favorite tool of Marxists. These proposals remind me of similar attempts some 30 years ago by some in Juneau to exclude mining development. Thankfully their attempts were not successful.
    The cry amongst those back then opposed to mining was that Juneau should develop tourism instead of mining. Now they want to curtail tourism. Who are these people? From where do they derive their incomes? Why are they hell bent on depriving others from exercising their right to visit our Great Land?

  7. The same people who want to transition from oil revenue and live on tourism and government are the same ones who now want to restrict tourism. They never want to restrict government. Few of these folks are job creators.

  8. Greg R. and Harbor Boy, I think, one mans quality of life could be another mans Gulag accommodation. What is it about leftism that leads you to think like selfish, spoiled, bratty toddlers? When did you knuckleheads arrive in Alaska? You have no concept of South Franklin Street, in say, 1967 do you? Bemoan the tacky tourist traps if you want, but let me tell you it’s a vast improvement over the Legion of Bars with cold, hungry, crying kids out front, waiting for Mommy. Or the opium crazed fella that lived across from the Cold Storage who attacked me on my paper route. I’ll bet you were never treated to seeing one of the house cat sized rats that lived on South Franklin either.

    After reading the proposal, is it your idea that Tourism is one where only wealthy Environmentalist on small charter ships decked out with Kayaks get to stop off for a day and visit the local Pot Shops? Smaller more personal tours are fine, but why restrict the others? I think it’s wonderful that people of modest means can enjoy the beauty of Southeast, many are retired and Alaska is on their Bucket List. Why do you want to rob these people of this pleasure? Why do you want to rob the thousands of Alaskans who have invested in tourism related industries of their “pursuit of happiness”? Why are you so unable to recognize the Rights and Liberties of others??? Perhaps your motto is “Way to much of you… Just enough of me”.

  9. Well Kingsley, you asked so I will answer. Those who have built businesses to serve tourists have done so on the shoulders of poor working people. The business owners, or as Marx and I prefer to say, bourgeoisie, enjoy all the benefits of the toil and sweat of the working folks. By working folks in Juneau, I mean the most of us with government jobs who work very hard and productively at regulating the rest of you. We enjoy the lives we have in Juneau and we don’t intend to share our privileges with others…. especially if those others are brought from distant locations by oppressive business organizations like the cruise lines. As to the wealth lost by local businesses, it is ill-gotten gain anyway. Its our mission to straighten out this world with a new socialist order that glorifies the collective rather than the selfish individual. You just need to learn to trust us.

  10. Michael Savitt, go with the sarcasm theory, I know Mr. Engals quite well despite his cowardly use of a nom de plume , I think he has exposed the heart of the matter.

  11. Dear Greg R. I was so disappointed to read your comment, as it is so completely uniformed about the cruise industry and the impact it has on small, family-owned LOCAL businesses. My husband and I both own businesses that server visitors. We offer private tours, to those who book them. The tours aren’t private to the cruise lines. Passengers are not held hostage by the ships and can book any experience they would like. Some choose to book through the ship, and some choose to call us directly. We welcome ALL visitors and are eager to get back to work.

    And for those who think Juneau is in a good place, “reconnecting” with our community. Businesses are hanging on by a hope, prayer, and massive debt from the EIDL. We did what we had to, to stay in business.

    We hire locals to drive our vehicles, be tour guides, and to work in our stores. Cruise lines bring much more than money to our community. They bring opportunity and vibrancy.

    These initiative will eliminate nearly 75% of the earnings opportunities for Juneau and the people who live here.

    Please get your facts, please talk to operators and business owners. We’re your friends and neighbors, and we want to stay your friends and neighbors, and we want to stay in business.

    Thank you.

  12. The Gov’t spent $30 Million to build a W&S System here in Talkeetna, to provide clean drinking water for the tourists, and locals. So the 260 customers of W&S get a free ride. Never paid a penny to construct. Never could afford the O&M costs, so they got a local 3% sales tax now, to help pay for the most part. Gov’t spent $Millions improving/enlarging the local airport so more planes hauling tourists could use it. Gov’t could not enlarge the rivers for more boats , so locals bought bigger and faster riverboats. To take tourists further up river to remote fishing spots. Tourist capacity has increased dramatically in all aspects. Just because of the cruise ships. Now the older tourist operators/owners have fleeced the tourist, made their fortunes and left town. The wildlife has left the area also. The Fisheries are decimated. Roads are still rough and dusty. The Pandemic provided a respite, some peace and quiet, like it used to be, but I know the ravaging will continue. Till we are like Disneyland !

  13. @Michael Savitt- This lunacy isn’t from legislators or even the Juneau Politburo, excuse me, Municipal Assembly; it is from a band of leftwing crazies that hate the tourism industry and pretty much all other forms of economic development. Many of the same crowd tried to stop the flight-seeing industry. Many of the same crowd were instrumental in imposing the head tax on cruise ship passengers. Some of them like to lurk around whale watching boats and take pictures with long telephoto lenses that make the boats look too close to whales and they dutifully record all the data and turn the photos and data over to the Coast Guard causing the master of the whale watching boat to have to defend his license and try to avoid significant fines. Juneau’s communists, greenies, and NIMBYs are an all-around fun lot.

  14. As a restaurant owner downtown Juneau I find that the seasonal pop up food carts and eateries almost put us out of business in the summer months.. Come October when the boats leave I fail to see those employees and owners anywhere in sight. Never run into them at Costco, never see them at a hockey game, haven’t seen them Christmas shopping or at school events. We just went two years with no cruise ships and the world didn’t end. In fact I think a lot of people enjoyed not having them around. Eventually those seasonal folks will start terminating their leases downtown and moving on. Free some real estate up for young local kids to become entrepreneurs in their home town. If Karla Hart did this petition in November I wonder how much opposition she would have? Be interesting to see how many of those (local) companies were here to oppose her.

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