Cruise-ship industry activist, author to speak in Juneau

Posted: Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Author Ross Klein said he is visiting Alaska this week to help residents who want to take control of the cruise ship industry's presence here.

He also wanted to experience Juneau and Haines in the off-season, when their downtowns aren't crowded with thousands of cruise ship passengers.

The self-proclaimed "cruise ship junkie" arrives in Juneau today and will speak on several radio shows and with community cruise ship activists during his two-day stay.

At 7 p.m. Thursday he will give a public presentation at the Juneau Assembly chambers on his interpretation of the cruise ship industry's effects in Southeast Alaska.

"My goal here isn't to tear the industry down," Klein said. "That's not what I'm trying to say. But I am trying to encourage people to recognize that this is their backyard, this is their home - they have a responsibility to protect where they live."

The cruise ship industry is the largest sector of the tourism industry in Southeast Alaska, and has a significant economic impact in the region.

About 720,000 people visited Alaska on cruise ships in 2002, according to the Alaska Travel Industry 2002 Business Status Survey, presented by the McDowell Group last October. Nearly all stop in Juneau.

The Juneau Tourism Community Opinion Survey, also conducted in 2002 by the McDowell Group for the city, showed that 40 percent of Juneau households thought tourism had an overall positive impact on their household.

Half of Juneau residents believe the city is not doing enough to manage the impacts of tourism, the study said. But residents were more likely to cite the positive impacts of tourism than they were in 1998 or 1995, when the city commissioned similar surveys.

Cruise lines also help pay for many of Juneau's art and theater productions, including some at Perseverance Theatre.

Klein, a professor of social work at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Canada, was a passenger on 30 cruises between 1992 and 2001. A sociologist by training, he enjoyed cruises until he began to notice disturbing patterns in the way cruise ship employees are treated, he said. A 23-day cruise in 1996 motivated him to further research labor issues in the industry.

"That cruise convinced me there's something to write about here," he said. "I got to know some of the crew, got to see things I hadn't seen previously."

Klein began researching labor conditions and environmental problems in the industry.

The result of Klein's research is the book "Cruise Ship Blues," published in November.

While a portion of the book consists of gripes Klein has concerning the quality of the cruises he's taken, other parts of the book discusses issues relevant to the cruise industry in Juneau.

Klein's trip is not sponsored by any organization, he said, although the Downtown Neighborhood Association has helped plan his itinerary.

Some Juneau residents question the usefulness of Klein's visit to Juneau.

"My personal thoughts are it's somewhat unfortunate that they're bringing him in here and trying to build some sort of resentment in the industry," said Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Tours. "It doesn't seem to build any community goodwill. I just don't know what the productive nature of bringing somebody like this to town is."

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