The city wants to know what local residents think about the future of tourism in Juneau. And it plans to use some unique methods in the search for an answer.
A year-long project to develop a comprehensive tourism plan for Juneau started in April. While the effort will include traditional public meetings, people also will get a chance to voice their opinions in a series of Web polls, said Maria Gladziszewski, director of the city's Office of Tourism.
The city will distribute IDs and passwords that will give registered voters a chance to answer questions about tourism issues. Polling will start in August.
"We're trying to engage more than the usual voices," Gladziszewski said. "Everyone has an opinion and there are a lot of folks we haven't heard from."
The city hired Egret Communications of Oregon in association with ARA Consulting Group/KPMG of British Columbia to do the study. Funding for the $150,000 project comes from the Juneau's cruise ship passenger fee.
Web polling won't dictate the outcome of the plan, but will serve as a guide, Gladziszewski said. The votes aren't official. If the polling doesn't work as planned, that's fine, she said.
"Nothing is set in stone," she said. "We're interested in gauging the community in whatever form we can," she said.
According to the consultant's proposal, the tourism management plan will incorporate a review of previous studies, interviews with stakeholders, a series of public meetings, case studies of tourism management in other communities and an analysis of tourism trends.
When the plan finished, Gladziszewski said the city hopes to have a list of tools to mitigate the impacts of tourism and to measure whether action is successful. Neither the city nor the contractors are interested in a plan that sits on a shelf and collects dust, she said.
"Part of the frustration that people have had is that the city has been in a reactive mode," she said.
John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Juneau is on the cutting edge in this sort of tourism planning. A comprehensive plan could help increase the benefits of tourism if a range of comment is incorporated, he said.
"If properly developed, a management plan can serve as a tool that ties the activities of the city departments together and private sector activities as well," he said.
Community activist Kim Metcalfe said planning for tourism growth is a good idea, although balance in the final product is important.
"If you look at the cruise ship Web pages and see how many new ships are under construction, this may just be the start of the build-up," she said.
Deputy Mayor John MacKinnon said the plan has an admirable goal of finding ways to maximize the benefits and minimize the impacts of tourism. The end result will depend on money and Assembly impetus, he said.
As the city hears more public comment about tourism issues, Assembly member Marc Wheeler said it's clear a comprehensive plan is needed.
"The key for Juneau is to decide what kind of tourism industry we want," he said.
The first formal public meeting about the city's comprehensive tourism plan will be Oct. 3 at Centennial Hall. Juneau residents also will be able to submit written comments.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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