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Alaska Residents Call For ‘Ship-Free Saturdays’ To Curb Overtourism

Juneau, Alaska to cap cruise ship passenger numbers
Juneau, Alaska to cap cruise ship passenger numbers [Image by Ted McGrath on Flickr]
Alaska is a hugely popular destination for cruises which has led to the locals getting fed up with the hoards of passengers coming ashore. In an effort to curb numbers, residents are now demanding “ship-free Saturdays” in Juneau to give them a break from the crowds. Due to this, a curb is being put in place in Alaska’s capital to avoid overtourism.

Juneau makes new agreement with major cruise lines

A new agreement has been put in place between Juneau and major cruise lines to cap the daily number of cruise ship passengers starting in 2026. However, one prominent critic of the cruise industry said on Tuesday that these limits don’t do enough to stop the problem.

Juneau port
Juneau Port [Image by Free Images on Flickr]
Finalized last week, the agreement seeks a daily cap of 16,000 cruise passengers on Sundays through Fridays, with 12,000 on Saturdays. While this might worry locals, officials did say that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be that many cruisers coming ashore each day.

Increase in cruises since the pandemic

Like many other locations in the world, cruise ship passenger numbers increased sharply after two years of the pandemic, leading to a record of more than 1.6 million passengers visiting Juneau in 2023. This led to tensions between local businesses that rely on tourism and residents who are fed up with increased traffic, the hum of helicopters ferrying visitors to glaciers and busy hiking trails.

Cruising Alaska
Cruising Alaska [Image Princess Cruises on Facebook]
Moreover, cruise seasons have become longer, with the first ship arriving this year in Juneau in early April. Meanwhile, the last was set to arrive in October. Due to this, on peak days, passenger numbers totaled around two-thirds of Juneau’s population of roughly 32,000. Last year, a daily limit was set to five large ships in the current season.

Current agreement to cap numbers

On Tuesday, Alexandra Pierce, Visitor Industry Director for Juneau, said the aim of the current agreement is to keep cruise passenger numbers steady in the 1.6 million range.

“The idea is that the agreement buys everybody time not only to see if it is sustainable but also to build the infrastructure that will help it feel more sustainable,” she said.

Meanwhile, Pierce said she expects several projects to be complete in the next five years “that will help our current numbers feel less impactful.”  She spoke of plans for a gondola at the Juneau ski area, increased visitor capacity at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area and updates to the downtown sea walk.

The agreement between the city manager and major cruise line executives also calls for annual meetings to “review lessons learned, to review and optimize the subsequent season’s operations, and align on community and industry parameters, goals and opportunities.”

According to Pierce, the 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.”

Critics say the cruise passenger cap isn’t enough

Cruise ships
Cruise ships [Image by Toni Paul from Pixabay]
Karla Hart, a longtime critic of the cruise industry, is skeptical about the new agreement. She said it doesn’t do enough to address the residents’ concerns that current tourism levels are unsustainable.

“It feels like we’re just getting led along again, and expansion will continue and more time will pass,” she said, adding that impacts will continue.

It is Hart who has been pushing a new local ballot initiative that would create “ship-free Saturdays.” This would mean no cruise ships with at least 250 passengers will be allowed to stop in Juneau on Saturdays and July 4. This is now under review and if certified, it could appear on the October ballot.

 

 

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