MyTurn: Tourism practices work to avoid conflicts

Posted: Monday, March 29, 2004

Juneau's tourism operators and employees are first and foremost Juneau residents - your family members, friends and neighbors. We are committed to Tourism Best Management Practices because we sincerely want to protect the very qualities that make Juneau a great place to live and a great place to visit. It is simply good business for tourism businesses to protect the visitor experience. That's why we've spent the last decade addressing tourism issues in a proactive manner.

Many Juneau residents have heard of the TWG and the TAC - acronyms for the Tourism Working Group (1995-1997) and the Tourism Advisory Committee (1997-2000). In 1997 the TWG hatched the voluntary compliance program that became Tourism Best Management Practices (TBMP). The effort began as a 19-point plan to reduce the negative impacts of tourism in the neighborhoods where residents were affected, such as Fritz Cove, the Back Loop, 12th Street or Blueberry Hill.

The basic concept of TBMP is one of communication and cooperation to ensure that tourism operations are conducted in a community-friendly way. Tour operators and employees who sign on to TBMP agree to follow specific guidelines designed to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce noise and generally make our Juneau summer enjoyable for visitors and residents alike.

An integral part of the TBMP is the tourism hotline (586-6774, Instituted in May 1997, the hotline provides Juneau residents the opportunity to register complaints and operators the chance to correct problems. When residents call or e-mail the hotline with a specific complaint, the concern is communicated directly to the operator involved so the matter can be resolved. To ensure accountability, calls are cataloged and tracked.

For the past seven years, the TBMP has undergone extensive annual review. To formulate the guidelines, operators review the annual tourism hotline log to target trouble-spots. We also monitor public comments about tourism that deal with specific issues (at Assembly meetings, radio call-in programs and letters to the editor). Two public meetings are conducted prior to the start of the season to solicit additional input. The Assembly is also asked to comment before the guidelines are finalized.

The original document included measures designed to encourage responsible operator conduct to address traffic congestion, noise, air pollution and impacts from commercial use of trails. They also called on tour operators to keep Sandy Beach, the Auke Village Recreation Area and Twin Lakes free of commercial tours. Later, TBMP began suggesting standards for tourism operations and established some areas of the Borough as off-limits to commercial tourism.

It's understood that tourism operators are required to obey city, state and federal laws. TBMP is not about additional laws. Its focus is improving business practices to increase operator awareness that tourism activity can be annoying and disruptive if we don't take steps to respect our neighbors.

By most objective standards, the efforts are working:

• Both independent and cruise visitors to Juneau report extremely high visitor experience satisfaction levels.

• Objective, statistically valid data collected from random community opinion surveys demonstrates increased satisfaction with the Visitor Industry and a higher level of tolerance for tourism activities.

• TBMP is included in the company training programs of all operators enrolled in the program.

• Juneau's Tourism Best Management Practices program was recognized by the Georgia Institute of Technology's Economic Development Institute as a model management program for sustainable tourism.

When the original voluntary compliance guidelines were adopted, some believed they went too far in regulating business; others thought they did not go far enough. TBMP does not - and cannot - address every issue. TBMP is a cost-effective, proven strategy that deals with impacts operators can address directly as they occur throughout the season.

• Bob Janes is the president and owner of Gastineau Guiding Company and a 40-year resident of Juneau. He writes on behalf of the 60 companies who participated in Tourism Best Management Practices in 2003.

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