Alaska set to limit number of cruise ship passengers who can visit Juneau

Cruise aficionados looking to experience Alaska’s capital, Juneau, may have to vie for permission to disembark and step foot on land, under a new agreement between the city and major cruise lines that sail there. 

The agreement between Juneau and Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska (CLIA), finalized last week, seeks to limit the number of daily cruise passengers who can arrive in Juneau to 16,000 on Sundays through Fridays, and to 12,000 on Saturdays, effective in 2026. 

The measure intends to limit the congestion and wear and tear tourists can cause a city. Visitors to Juneau skyrocketed to a record 1.6 million last year, after the pandemic depressed numbers for two years. Other popular cities have taken similar measures to limit tourists and their effect on daily life for residents. For example, Venice, Italy, in April became the first city in the world to charge day-trippers a fee just to enter on peak days.

Alaska’s new agreement is designed to cap levels of visitors to roughly where they are now.

“The cruise industry is vital to our local economy, and we need to improve our infrastructure and grow our tour capacity to create a great guest experience and reduce impacts on residents,” Juneau Visitor Industry director Alexandra Pierce said in a statement Tuesday. “With this agreement, we are committing to a cap to manage our busiest days and to meet annually to ensure that our visitor numbers remain sustainable.”

CLIA, the cruise lines association, applauded the measure, calling the agreement “a well-balanced and thoughtful approach to keeping Juneau a great place to live and visit.”

Ongoing, direct dialogue with local communities is the best way to jointly self-regulate to preserve great resident and visitor experiences while providing a predictable market for the many local businesses that rely on the cruise industry,” CLIA said in part in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch.

In Alaska, residents have complained that record numbers of visitors contribute to bad traffic and increase noise pollution when they visit glaciers by helicopter. On the other hand, many local businesses rely on the cruise industry and the steady flow of visitors it provides, the city of Juneau acknowledged in a statement. 

Alaska Climate Tourism Tipping Point
A cruise ship departs from downtown Juneau, on June 7, 2023, along the Gastineau Channel, in Alaska. 

Becky Bohrer / AP

Cruise seasons have also been extended from early April to late October, offering year-round residents little reprieve from tourists’ presence.

Under a separate agreement, only five large ships are permitted a day during the current cruise season. 

Pierce said other projects in the works will also likely diminish the impact tourists have on the city. They include installing a gondola at the city’s ski area, updating its downtown sea walk and expanding capacity for visitors at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area. 

City leaders are “trying to balance the needs of our residents, the needs of our economy, the needs of future opportunities for people to stay in our community,” she said.

The agreement has its skeptics, though. Cruise industry critic Karla Hart says the new measure isn’t sufficient to curb unsustainable levels of tourism. “It feels like we’re just getting led along again, and expansion will continue and more time will pass,” she said, according to the Associated Press. 

Hart is behind a local ballot proposal that would ban ships of at least 250 passengers from stopping in Juneau on Saturdays or on July 4. 

—The Associated Press contributed to this report

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