Alaska's capital Juneau sets passenger limits to manage cruise tourism

   June 15, 2024 ,   Cruise Industry

Juneau (Alaska's capital) is set to limit the number of cruise ship passengers arriving at its port due to concerns over the impact of tourism. This decision comes amidst calls for more measures to protect the quality of life for residents.

Juneau, located on the Gastineau Channel and home to 32,000 residents, saw a record 1.65 million cruise ship tourists in 2023, a 23% increase from the previous high.

While local businesses benefit from the influx of tourist dollars, there are rising concerns about the effects of tourism, such as increased helicopter noise, crowded public spaces, and environmental damage.

In an effort to balance economic benefits with the negative effects of high visitor numbers, the city has reached an agreement with the Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska. This agreement will limit daily cruise passenger arrivals to 16,000 from Sundays to Fridays and to 12,000 on Saturdays.

Alexandra Pierce, Juneau’s tourism manager, explained that the city lacks the infrastructure to support further cruise growth and that the daily passenger limits aim to reduce congestion on the busiest days. She emphasized the importance of cruise tourism to the local and regional economies, while also acknowledging the need to address the concerns of residents and the local businesses dependent on tourism.

Despite these measures, Karla Hart, a longtime critic of the cruise industry, believes the new limits may still allow for record-breaking visitor numbers over the 22-week season. She supports a local referendum proposing "ship-free Saturdays," which would prevent ships with 250+ passengers from docking in Juneau one day a week, aiming to offer tangible quality-of-life improvements for the community.

The cruise industry has seen significant growth post-pandemic, with newer ships accommodating increasingly larger numbers of passengers. For instance, the recently launched Icon of the Seas can carry 7,000+ passengers and crew.

Juneau's concerns reflect a broader trend, as other cities also grapple with the social and environmental impacts of cruise tourism. Venice banned large ships from its lagoon in 2021, while Barcelona has imposed access restrictions, and Amsterdam has introduced a day tax on cruise passengers.

Hart highlighted ongoing issues such as air and water emissions from cruise ships, ship strikes, and climate change, underscoring the need for continued scrutiny and regulation of the industry.