UPDATE: Juneau Limits Daily Cruise Ship Passengers beginning in 2026

Juneau, Alaska, (KINY) – In a landmark decision aimed at preserving the unique character of the city and protecting its natural environment, Juneau has agreed to impose strict limits on the number of cruise ship passengers disembarking each day. Beginning in 2026, the daily cap will be set at 16,000 people on most days, with a reduced limit of 12,000 on Saturdays.

This decision follows years of community discussions, environmental impact studies, and negotiations between city officials, local businesses, and the cruise industry. Juneau, known for its breathtaking landscapes, rich history, and vibrant culture, has seen a significant increase in cruise ship traffic over the past decade. While this influx has bolstered the local economy, it has also raised concerns about overcrowding, environmental degradation, and the strain on local infrastructure.

Holly Johnson, Partner, Chief Marketing Officer & Vice President at Wings Airways, emphasized the collaborative spirit behind the decision: “This MOA is so profound, in the way that you have every representative from the industry sit down and say, how do we keep this place authentic and what does it mean. That’s ultimately what’s most important to any of us living here. We all have different perspectives as to what a number is or what quality of life is but when we really sit down and talk about what we consider this place to be, it’s our passion about loving Juneau.”

Juneau residents have been calling for restrictions as the Alaska cruise market has boomed in the past few years. Alaska was one of the first markets to reopen after the pandemic. While tourism is recognized as a vital part of the local economy, the city this year is projecting that 1.65 million passengers will come to Juneau in 2024, up from approximately 1.64 million last year. By comparison, it was approximately 1.15 million in 2022 and 1.3 million in 2019.

Many believe the city’s official estimate for 2024 is low. They note that cruise lines are sending larger ships and have extended the length of the cruise season. Norwegian Cruise Line arrives on April 9 with its Norwegian Bliss this year almost a month ahead of the competitors and runs a month later with the last call of the season scheduled for October 24. By early May, other leading brands including Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean International will also have started cruises. In total, Juneau is booked for 485 cruise ship calls in 2024.

Alexandra Pierce, City and Borough of Juneau’s Visitor Industry Director highlighted the importance of collaboration: “Municipalities only have blunt tools to use. We can do things like close docks and we’d much rather get there through collaboration so we can maximize the infrastructure we’ve built and it’s so much easier to achieve things when you are working with somebody that you have a collaborative relationship with. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ve agreed on everything but it means the lines of communication are open and we can be very blunt about how we disagree and then we can work on a solution.”

The cruise industry and Alaska have struggled with the state’s efforts at a head tax strongly opposed by the cruise lines that were successful in getting it reduced. Juneau voters in 1999 passed a proposition that assigned a tax of $5 per cruise ship passenger which continues in addition to a $3 Juneau Port Development Fee and the $5 State of Alaska Commercial Passenger Vessel Fee. Juneau estimates revenue in fiscal year 2025 to be roughly $21.5 million from cruise passengers with the money used for everything from shore power to enhancements of transit and city parks.

Residents have been calling for greater efforts to cap the number of passengers. A 2021 initiative in Juneau failed to make it to the citizen’s ballot while last year city officials in neighboring Sitka, Alaska, another popular cruise port, declined an effort to include a proposed cap for passengers on the city’s ballot.

Juneau and the trade group Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) agreed in 2023 to voluntarily limit ships to no more than five starting this year. They said the number was based on recommendations established by a task force in 2020, but residents said it needed to be lowered to three or four ships a day.

Renée Limoge Reeve, Vice President of Government and Community Relations at CLIA in Alaska, reflected on the significance of these agreements: “It’s the third MOA we’ve had with the city of Bureau of Juneau. These MOAs are unique in Alaska and I think it demonstrates the partnership that we do enjoy here and the fact that the industry is trying to be a good partner in the communities that we visit. We want this to be a place where people want to live and visit and striking that balance is important.”

The elected city representatives said the threshold of five large ships per day is intended to provide a positive experience for the benefit of both residents and visitors while providing a reliable market for the many local businesses that rely on the visitor industry, especially cruise.

Local business owners have expressed mixed reactions to the news. Many are cautiously optimistic, recognizing the need for sustainable tourism management. Tourism is vital to the local economy, but the goal is to balance economic benefits with preserving the community’s quality of life and protecting the environment.

Environmental groups have praised the move as a significant step towards sustainable tourism. This decision highlights the importance of responsible tourism management in an era of increasing travel and environmental awareness. As Juneau prepares to implement these new regulations, other tourist destinations worldwide will be watching closely to see how the city balances the demands of tourism with the needs of its residents and environment.

Juneau’s proactive approach serves as a reminder that sustainable tourism is not only possible but necessary for the long-term health of both local communities and the planet. As the city looks ahead to 2026 and beyond, the hope is that these measures will create a more balanced, sustainable future for all who call Juneau home or visit its shores.