I have watched the on-going debate concerning the pros and cons of cruise ships and their passengers. Many communities have realized some positive improvements due to cruise ship travel, yet found there are many negative aspects to that industry. Jobs, money and entrepreneurship drive our encouragement of travelers to our region, along with the desire to show others the beautiful place we call home.
Over the last few years, the Juneau Assembly has discussed ways to enhance the tourists' "experience" while in Juneau. That subject is worthwhile and can create economic benefits and resolve some problems. According to others, it can also create new issues and new controversies. How does a community get more bang for its buck, yet maintain a quality of life desired by the majority of residents?
Meanwhile, Juneau has a wealth of independent travelers who do not seem to be part of the discussion when it comes to enhancement of the visitor experience. That is the point of this article.
Located in northern Southeast are many small communities which furnish Juneau with a huge source of revenue. While some individual businesses have gone out of their way to serve residents of the outlying communities, I have heard very little from the Chamber, visitor's associations and/or local government powers that would serve to encourage or build upon the relationship between Southeast bush communities and Juneau as a transportation-shopping-service center hub.
When those of us from out-of-town come to Juneau, we "drop" much more than the supposedly average amount spent by the average cruise ship passenger (reportedly $60-80 per shore-bound passenger). Travel on the Alaska Marine Highway or travel with any of the many commuter airline services out of Juneau bring direct dollars to the local economy. Many residents from the outlying communities spend a few nights in a hotel, contributing to Juneau's bed tax and helping to create and maintain jobs. Additionally money is spent on restaurants, taxis, bus service and rental cars. Central to most of our trips is shopping at Juneau's grocery stores, discount stores, clothing stores, bookstores, sporting goods stores, etc. (We shop in the "tourist" shops, as well). We usually schedule any needed doctor, dentist and veterinarian appointments, as well as trips to the barber-hair dresser, movie, tax accountants and dry cleaners. Often these trips are built around arts events or sporting events in Juneau. It is easy for a family of four to spend at least $2,000 in a weekend after plane fare, hotels, meals, transportation and a small amount of shopping.
We don't clutter up just the downtown area. We make purchases from every business imaginable. We travel year-round, spreading out the business beyond the tourist season. True, we don't add up to as many tourists per year as the cruise visitors, but we don't inundate the town at one time, either. We have brought no major pollution to Juneau. We know where we are, we know what kind of money you use and we know what the elevation is.
Unless one has traveled from the smaller communities, one is often unaware of the lack of simple conveniences. I often travel to Sitka for business purposes. Due to the lack of daylight and/or desirable weather, the floatplane is often not able to get from Juneau to Pelican and back to Juneau in time for me to catch the morning Alaska Airlines flight to Sitka. Therefore, one is forced to either spend all day (11 hours) in the airport, waiting for the 10 p.m. flight or attempting to shop in the valley or downtown carrying all your baggage, as there is nowhere in the airport to store luggage. Many of the small commuter companies help us in this regard by storing luggage behind their counters for awhile. But in the winter they close early, so one must be back in the airport by 3 p.m. in order to sit with one's luggage until 10 p.m.
My intent is simply to remind some Juneau organizations that there is a group of steady, consistent, year-round tourists that may have suggestions that could help meet Juneau's needs, as well as those of the visitors. I am not asking for special treatment for residents from the smaller communities, but simply to address the fact that it could be helpful to Juneau's Visitor's Bureau, the Assembly, the Chamber and businesses to enter some sort of discussion with organizations, businesses and residents of surrounding communities.
Juneau, we need you for certain services we do not have. But you need us as well.
Kathie Wasserman is the Mayor of Pelican.