My Turn: It is possible to be pro-tourism and believe Juneau is oversaturated with cruise ships

I originally came to town as a visitor over 30 years ago. I found a vibrant town and vibrant visitor industry. We are quickly approaching a 400% increase in cruise traffic in that time frame.

The people of Bar Harbor, Venice, Bruges, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Palma de Mallorca, Santorini, Key West, the Norwegian fjords and more all benefit and welcome tourists. Yet each of the above has capped or banned cruise ships. The reasons have naught to do with being anti-tourist. There is a cost-benefit analysis involved.

There are many of us in Juneau who are very much pro-tourism and believe that the cruise ship industry has gone well beyond the saturation point of being mutually beneficial — being to the detriment of both the visitor and resident. Quality over quantity does not make one anti-tourist, xenophobic, or “anti-cruise activist.” We actually care about the experiences of the visitors, our guests.

According to the McKinley Research Group, cruise ship passengers increased by 334% between 1995 and 2023. According to the Empire, we had 977,000 cruise ship passengers visit in 2015 and 1.65 million last year. If ever-ballooning numbers of cruisers were the answer, how has a 72% increase in eight years not resolved every issue this side of curing cancer?

Win Gruening used the word shrill, and other attempts at insults and name-calling in his April 24 missive/long list of complaints regarding the would-be Aak’w Landing project. He also makes bold assertions without backing them up. Frankly, failing to provide substance, specious seems to be the shoe that fits Mr. Gruening’s pontifications: made to sound plausible, yet not.

Perhaps most notably, Gruening’s piece does not address either air quality, or why there was a shore power requirement to the CBJ’s Conditional Use Permit for a fifth dock.

I agree with Gruening that “Juneau’s cost of living is still a deterrent to would-be job hunters.” So I ask him, how do the vast majority of the cruise line industry associated jobs address that issue? Seasonal jobs at that, filled with so many seasonal, non-resident workers? What percentage of the jobs can a family live off of? What housing is affordable to them?

Yet Gruening argues that we need to “reverse negative trends” by growing the economy to “spread the tax burden” through ever expanding cruiser numbers. Curiously, diversification and living wage jobs do not enter Gruening’s picture of a path to prosperity. One must wonder, does he think Juneau has/had naught to offer beyond a U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker and even more, ever bigger cruise ships?

Reasonable minds can disagree. I would note that when one believes in the position they proffer, they do not have to ignore verifiable facts, science or offer specious numbers and arguments. Claiming the loss of “400 jobs” if we have ship-free Saturdays is specious at best. The logic offered is that cruise tourism in Juneau directly employed nearly 4,000 in 2023, and Saturday’s account for 10% of that. This fails the sniff test on multiple fronts: (a) how many full-time positions/ equivalent employees? (b) Employees never get a day off? (c) There are Saturday-only employees? As to the economic impact, if the numbers being thrown around with scare tactics were genuine, they would be backed up.

I would remind all of the outright threats by the cruise industry if a head tax was approved, including all the scare tactics. Then there was the costly legal battle over how those dollars were spent. Now the industry takes issue with the prospect of the monies being used to bolster mobile phone and internet service that is severely degraded during the cruise ship season. Then there is the city bus service and the realities surrounding the limited capacity of Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. If you use local trails, you know the realities.

Thirty years ago the majority of businesses were locally owned and year-round. What is it today? Thirty years ago the majority of seasonal employees were from out of town. That ratio has grown ever more.

Stuart Hallam is a Juneau resident since 1994 who has worked in tourism jobs from guiding to bus driving, as well as operating a brokerage. This article was originally published in the Juneau Empire.