My Turn: Tourism Best Management Practices work

Posted: Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Many small steps by many dedicated people have over time had the cumulative effect of making tourism work in our community. The process has been lengthy and time-consuming and has involved not one, but many public processes and private efforts.

Now in its ninth year, the Tourism Best Management Practices program was initiated by local residents who have a very large stake in the outcome of tourism issues. Approximately 20 percent of Juneau's work force is employed in some capacity in the visitor industry. In fact, the resumes of many Juneau residents under the age of 30 probably include work experience at one of our businesses.

Because tourism operators and employees are invested in Juneau in so many ways, as property owners, parents of schoolchildren and participants in numerous community activities, it is critical to have a good relationship with our neighbors.

In 1997, in response to growing concerns about the impact of tourism on the community, local tourism operators took the initiative to develop the Voluntary Compliance Program. Over time, Voluntary Compliance evolved into Tourism Best Management Practices. The core idea behind both programs is that when tourism operators become aware of their potential to disrupt the lives of their neighbors, they will conduct their operations in as sensitive a manner as possible.

But our Tourism Best Management Practices program is more than just an awareness program. By asking every employee to sign on to the guidelines, we cultivate a sense of personal responsibility and accountability among our work force. When everyone does his or her part, the impacts of tourism are minimized and the entire community benefits from the effort.

This pro-active approach will include participation by more than 60 employers and more than 1,300 employees this summer.

Tour operators and employees who sign on to the program agree to follow specific guidelines designed to alleviate traffic congestion, reduce noise and generally make our Juneau summer enjoyable for visitors and residents alike. Because we track the comments called in to the tourism hotline (586-6774), we revise the guidelines annually to try to be as responsive as possible to residents' concerns.

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. Tourism Best Management does not, and cannot, address every issue. It is a cost-effective, proven strategy that deals with impacts operators can address directly as they occur throughout the season.

What's new for 2005?

• We are pleased to report that the Juneau waterfront will be even quieter this summer than it was in 2004. Wings' Airways third and fourth turbine Otters will enter their fleet this summer. This turbine conversion will allow Wings to continue to reduce noise levels downtown.

• Coastal Helicopters recently purchased a $100,000 flight simulator for training and monitoring of routes. Besides enhancing safety, the simulator shortens the amount of flight time over the Mendenhall Valley during training, thus reducing noise.

• Program participants have instituted a $1,000 Tourism Best Management Practices Scholarship for the graduating senior who develops the most creative, thoughtful and viable suggestion for the Tourism Best Management Practices guidelines. Funding for the scholarship comes directly from our visitor industry businesses.

• The program has caught the attention of other communities in Southeast Alaska, and we have been asked to share details of our program with Sitka this spring.

Those of us who participate in Tourism Best Management remain fully committed to the principles of responsible and sensitive tour operations. That is the only way we can successfully protect the visitor experience, the quality of life of our friends and neighbors and ultimately, our own livelihood.

When the Juneau Empire heralded this cooperative approach to addressing Juneau's tourism issues, they noted that, "There's plenty of room on the playground. We just have to get used to sharing it." (8/24/97) As tour operators who do business in the community, we are grateful for the opportunity to share Juneau with visitors and will continue working hard to make tourism work for everyone.

• Kirby Day is the director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Tours and the main industry contact for Tourism Best Management Practices.

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