What’s in store for Juneau this cruise season?

The Norwegian Bliss prepares to leave Juneau on June 5, 2018.
The Norwegian Bliss prepares to depart Juneau on June 5, 2018. The Bliss was Juneau’s first-ever megaship. This summer, three more ships carrying close to 4,000 passengers or more will make regular port calls. (Photo by Adelyn Baxter/KTOO)

The first cruise ship of the summer is scheduled to arrive April 28. This season is expected to bring more visitors to Juneau than ever before.

Tour operators and seasonal businesses are busy getting ready for the anticipated 1.3 million passengers expected to arrive over the next five months.

The city also just settled a lawsuit with the cruise industry over how it spends fees collected from passengers.

Kirby Day has spent more than 20 years coordinating Tourism Best Management Practices, a program that brings together stakeholders to work toward minimizing the impacts of a growing tourism industry on the surrounding community. Day said the program is now being emulated by other cruise ship communities around the world, but Juneau still has room to grow when it comes to addressing the impacts.

KTOO’s Adelyn Baxter spoke with Kirby Day, who manages port operations out of Juneau for Holland America Group, about what to expect this year.

Kirby Day: We’ve done this for 20 years, and if you think about when TBMP came into being in 1997, about 600,000 cruise passengers. And at that time we had folks in the community wondering if that was too many and if we’d reached capacity and reached our limit. Well, here we are 23 years later — and another 700,000 people — and now it’s time to start talking about that again. And we shouldn’t shy away from talking about how we address future growth and how the community wants to embrace that.

Adelyn Baxter: Sort of on the inverse of that, as numbers continue to climb, I’m curious because Southeast Alaska has seen it before with these industries that the region becomes very reliant on. … So is the boom-and-bust effect something that your industry talks about?

Day: I don’t think we’re going to find a bust. You know, it may fluctuate like, you know, it did a number of years ago. It dropped a little bit, and it’s been increasing steadily now for the last probably six or eight years. It’s going to taper off a little bit in 2020. Part of that is going to be self-inflicted I would say, because … you can only get five ships here at one time, and to me that’s plenty.

Baxter: In light of the settlement with the cruise industry, what do you think is the cruise industry’s role this summer moving forward?

Day: I think, and I wasn’t involved in the settlement, but I think the settlement came out as a good story for both sides at the end of the day. … It’s industry’s role — and by industry I’m including tour operators and things like that — to step forward with their best foot, work hard to address impacts in town, work hard to listen to local citizens so that we know what’s concerning (to) them, and grow the industry in a responsible manner that we can be proud of and that the community can be proud of and that is a benefit to both sides. … But we’re looking forward to a good summer. We will have the new Ovation of the Seas for Royal Caribbean, which is about almost a 5,000 passenger ship. That will be the largest ship in the market, I believe. Princess has the Royal Princess coming for the first time. There was a Royal Princess back in 1984 of 1,200 passengers, but this will be about 4,500 passengers. … And then (Norwegian Cruise Lines) is bringing the second megaship. Last year they had the Bliss, this year they’ll have the Norwegian Joy. One will be in in the morning, on a Tuesday I believe, and one will be in in the afternoon.

Baxter: Alright well, thank you so much Kirby.

Day: Thank you. Appreciate it.

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