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Alaska City Mulls Saturday Cruise Ship Ban

Juneau is set to host 660 cruises in 2024, and expects to break 2023’s visitor record. 

The city of Juneau, Alaska, will ask voters whether to ban cruise ships on Saturdays, in order to give local residents a weekend break from tourist crowds. 

The measure, which would ban cruise ships carrying more than 250 passengers from calling at the city on Saturdays or on July 4, received enough signatures to appear on the October 1 ballot. 

Juneau is a popular cruise port. On Saturdays this summer, the city is scheduled to receive up to six ships on Saturdays, with the ability to disembark up to 12,000 passengers. Saturdays aren’t the busiest days for Juneau–those generally occur midweek, when larger ships cluster in the port. Earlier this year, the city and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) agreed to a voluntary limit of 16,000 cruise passengers per day, with a lower limit of 12,000 passengers on Saturdays.

The cruise season for Juneau has also extended over previous years. Previously, cruises generally operated May through September, but in 2024 there will be cruise ships docked in the city’s port from early April through late October, although the beginnings and ends of the season are sparse—a handful of ships per week instead of up to six per day during the summer peak. 

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The affidavit accompanying the ballot measure indicates that the 2024 cruise season would last 192 days, including a stretch from May 2 to September 27 without single-day break from cruise ship arrivals. Banning the ships on Saturdays, it said, would reliably provide residents with one day per week they could gather in their community without tens of thousands of cruise ship visitors for company. The measure also proposes that commercial vehicle parking spaces downtown be converted to free public parking on days when the ban is in effect. 

Some local business owners are already pushing back, saying such a ban would harm their revenue. Juneau Chamber of Commerce President Laura McDonnell told Seatrade Cruise News that the proposed ban would be “dangerous and detrimental to our economy”. McDonnell owns the Caribou Crossings gift shop in Juneau, which sells products made by more than 60 Alaska resident artisans. She says 98% of her business is cruise ship passengers. 

A similar measure in 2021 failed to gain enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The current petition received over 2,300 signatures to qualify, but McDonnell said she believes the ballot initiative would “fail by a large margin”. 

McDonnell also said the economic impact of a day every week without large cruise ships would deprive the city of some $36 Million in lost revenue, pointing out the city has become more dependent on tourism as the fishing, mining, and timber industries have had diminishing returns. Even Alaska’s state government—the largest employer in the capital—has reduced workforce by hundreds of jobs.

There are alternatives for port calls in Juneau. Two Alaska Native corporations, Doyon and Huna Totem Corporation, recently opened a cruise port near the Tlingit village of Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island. Developed in cooperation with the local Klawock Heenya Corporation and modeled on the success of the popular Icy Strait Point cruise stop near Hoonah, another Tlingit Village, the port could be an alternative for ships unable to berth in Juneau if the ban proposal is successful.

Klawock, however, has a tender dock, rather than a facility that allows the ships to disembark passengers directly to dry land, limiting its feasibility for many of the largest cruise ships that would be displaced from Juneau. 

Juneau welcomed 1.6 million visitors in 2023, an all-time record surpassing the previous one, set in 2019. Juneau is set to host 660 cruises in 2024, and expects to break 2023’s visitor record.