Alaska limits cruise ship passengers to limit tourists

Alaska’s capital city is set to limit the number of cruise ship passengers arriving at its port due to concerns over tourism’s increasing impact. However, a prominent critic argues that more measures are necessary to protect the quality of life for Alaskans.

Juneau, located on the Gastineau Channel in southern Alaska, has a population of 32,000 and saw a record 1.65 million cruise ship passengers last year—a 23% increase from the previous record. While many businesses welcome the influx of tourist dollars, others are troubled by noisy helicopters, crowded streets and trails, and environmental damage.

To balance the economic benefits with the negative effects of high visitor numbers, the city reached an agreement last week with the Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska to limit daily cruise passenger arrivals to 16,000 from Sunday to Friday, and to 12,000 on Saturdays.

Juneau’s tourism manager, Alexandra Pierce, stated, “The city’s stance is that we cannot accommodate more ship growth with our current infrastructure, so we negotiated daily passenger limits to reduce the pressure on our busiest days.” The agreement aims to keep ship passenger numbers stable while the city works on improving its infrastructure.

“Cruise tourism is vital for our local and regional economies, and we need to be good neighbors while also finding a balance between concerned residents and the local livelihoods that depend on the visitor industry,” Pierce added.

Juneau, a former gold-rush town located near a massive glacier, lush rainforests, towering mountains, and a pristine waterway home to humpback whales, has become Alaska’s most popular port for cruise ships.

Karla Hart, a Juneau resident and longtime critic of the cruise industry, worries that the new daily limits could still lead to record arrivals over the 22-week cruise season. “The city’s directive was to maintain or slightly reduce numbers, yet the new agreement could potentially allow up to 2.5 million cruise-ship passengers,” she noted.

Hart supports a local referendum for “ship-free Saturdays,” which would prohibit ships with more than 250 passengers from docking in Juneau one day a week. “Our ballot initiative aims to provide a tangible quality-of-life improvement for the community by having one day a week without cruise ships in port,” she explained.

The cruise industry is booming post-pandemic, with ships growing larger. Some vessels now carry nearly 6,000 passengers, and the industry is still expanding. In January, the largest cruise ship to date, Icon of the Seas, was launched. It stands 20 decks high, carries over 7,000 passengers and crew, and features the largest waterpark on a ship.

Juneau isn’t alone in its concerns about the social and environmental impacts of cruise ships. Venice banned them from its lagoon in 2021, Barcelona has restricted access, and Amsterdam has introduced a day tax on passengers.

Hart commented, “Air and water emissions from the ships, ship strikes, and climate change are major concerns. The list goes on.”

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