Tourism season wraps up for 2023

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Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – Juneau’s last official ship day is Oct. 25.

Tourism Manager for the City and Borough of Juneau, Alexandra Pierce, said there was 30% growth this season and numbers are expected to remain steady in 2024 and 2025. Knowing the amount of people to expect for next summer will help her prepare for operations to run smoothly.

Although the 5-ship limit will go into effect for 2024’s tourism season, the number of people coming in will remain the same. This is because some operators have swapped out smaller ships for bigger ones as the limit redistributed the schedule.

Pierce looked to the future.

“I think we’ll spread out the schedule a little bit next summer, we’re not going to have those six ship Tuesdays. I think we have two Tuesdays where we have one tiny little six-ship at anchor, but that was a negotiated thing that we approved,” she said. “They asked if they could put a small ship there because they didn’t have anywhere for it to go. And it’s not big enough to materially change the impact at all.”

Pierce recognized that Juneau’s tourism management as a central port impacts other Southeast communities.

“It seems like the limits in Juneau are kind of stabilizing the numbers throughout the whole region,” she said. “In Juneau, we’re very cognizant of our impact on the rest of the region. And that, what we do impacts the numbers in other ports. And so we’re all kind of staying steady for the next few years, because of our limit. And as we look into the future, and we look at the potential for different limits, if that’s the direction that the assembly gives me, then we’ll need to think about the rest of the region.”

Over this summer, there was a rising concern of whale watching boats crowding whales. Pierce said they are working toward a solution for next year.

“Working with the whale watch operators on some self-regulation opportunities for next summer to make that industry run smoother. And the assembly has asked us to look into what limiting that industry might look like. We’ve put that back on the operators and said, ‘What would work for you?’ she said. “We don’t want to make something up as government in a vacuum, and then come up with something that doesn’t work. We’d rather have a lot of feedback and thought from the operators that would have to work under a permitting system.”

Another challenge this season was tourists filling up city buses due to tour bus operators’ permits running out. Pierce stated it’s an issue that is being taken seriously.

“It definitely impacted Capital Transit. We’re working with the Forest Service and the operators on how we resolve that. We’re doing the work now to make sure that it happens. I don’t know exactly what it will look like,” she said. “At the very minimum, the operators will allocate permits over the entire season, knowing that they’re not going to get extras.”

The City and the Forest Service are working on their programs as well. The City is trying to add more capacity to valley transit routes, but they do have a perennial bus driver shortage which also contributes to the issue.

She also shared details on an upcoming community survey done by the McKinley Research Group.

“McKinley Research will be randomly calling Juneau residents to capture their feelings about tourism. It’s a five to 10-minute survey call, and I hope people will answer. It’s not spam,” she said.

The results will be available in December.

The survey is important for Tourism Best Management Practices to understand how locals are impacted. It will help them plan for the future.

The same contractors will look at a survey of passenger sentiment, and how much money they spent in Juneau. There will be updated data for how much cruise passengers spent and how much crew spent. The last time this data was recorded was back in 2017.

“I’m really excited to have that information and also hear how some of the things that really impacted locals, like the glacier situation and the whale watching situation, how visitors felt, whether they noticed, or negatively impacted their experience,” Pierce added.

Another study this winter will look at commercial recreational use. The study will help update commercial regulations for parks and trails.

“It really needs to be updated, doesn’t even consider uses like bikes or e-bikes. We have segways at Eaglecrest, we weren’t thinking about those types of things. And 20 years ago, we built the Rainforest trail because we heard that there were too many visitors on trails and that we needed a dedicated trail for commercial use, and that’s definitely something that could be an option again,” she explained. “The other piece of that is looking at City lands that could be available for shore excursions or what part of the borough to help concentrate visitor activity. That hopefully will give the business community some motivation and guidance to establish new visitor opportunities and take the pressure off some of our hotspots.”