Sunday, July 21, 2024

Alaska city limits cruise passengers after being overwhelmed by tourists last year

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The capital city of Alaska will set new limits on how many cruise ship passengers can visit every day after a post-pandemic deluge of tourism.

Last year the roughly 32,000 residents of Juneau weathered hordes of hikers, schools of whale watchers, and swarms of overflying helicopters as roughly 1.6m visitors in total – or up to 21,000 per day in peak periods – disembarked at the docks.

Now the city government has signed a voluntary agreement with the cruise ship industry that caps the number of vessels allowed to dock each day, starting in 2026.

The agreement limits daily docking to ships with a cumulative 16,000 beds on Sundays through Fridays and 12,000 beds on Saturdays, although the number of actual visitors will sometimes be larger because cruise ships often exceed their listed capacity.

“The city’s position is that we do not have room for cruise growth with our current infrastructure, and we have negotiated the daily passenger limits to bring down our busiest days,” city tourism manager Alexandra Pierce told The Guardian.

“Cruise tourism is important for our local and regional economies, and we need to be good neighbors while also finding the balance between concerned residents and the local livelihoods that depend on the visitor industry.”

A cruise ship dwarfed by nature as it rests beside the Juneau docks in June 2017
A cruise ship dwarfed by nature as it rests beside the Juneau docks in June 2017 (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer)

But some locals believe the new limits are insufficient, and are pushing for a ballot measure that would reduce the limit to 250 beds on Saturdays and July 4, effectively banning most passenger ships on those days.

“All we are seeking is one day a week, plus the Fourth of July, when locals can go downtown, visit the glacier, hike on our trails, and go fishing without competing with thousands and thousands of cruise passengers,” said supporter Steve Krall last week, according to The Juneau Empire.

“This is a modest and reasonable request: a simple day of rest for everyone.”

Other residents have opposed the ballot measure, arguing that cruise ships bring in enormous amounts of consumer spending and tax revenue that the city and its people cannot afford to pass up.

Juneau, a former gold mining town shielded from the Pacific Ocean by the rocky labyrinth of the Alexander Archipelago, bills itself as the single most popular whale-watching destination in the world and has a tourist season lasting roughly 22 weeks.

Between 2022 and 2023, the number of cruise ship passengers visiting Juneau rose by 44 percent, according to The Alaska Beacon, which Pierce said was “shocking” and sometimes “suffocating” for many residents.

The new agreement is reportedly intended to keep tourist numbers roughly steady, giving the city more time to expand its infrastructure while incorporating enough of a delay that cruise lines can adapt their future schedules.

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