Businesses split over promotions

Critics: Ships' spiels exclude some locals

Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2000

The Downtown Business Association this morning reaffirmed its position against any ``exclusionary'' marketing programs that would be conducted on board cruise ships, an issue that is pitting some Juneau merchants against each other.

DBA President Kathy Ellis of The Raven's Journey and Little Switzerland store manager Kayla Robbs have staked out opposing positions in recent memos to business owners concerning advertising on cruise ships.

The issue: a port promotion program now being offered in Ketchikan and Sitka by a contractor for Holland America Lines, in which merchants pay for an on-board lecture intended to steer passengers their way once the ship has docked.

Legislative lobbyist Jerry Reinwand of Juneau, whose family owns a downtown gift shop, said he intends to seek a legislative remedy in the 2001 session for what he calls ``extortion'' by the cruise industry.

In response to the tempest, Holland America announced it won't offer the program in Juneau.

Ellis said the DBA board unanimously voted today for a resolution restating a position the association took in 1996.

Specifically, the association opposes marketing programs that do not include published rates and that are not open to all businesses.

DBA has overlapping membership with a new pro-tourism group, Destination Juneau. On June 8, the two groups heard a pitch from On-Board Media, a Miami agency that does port promotions on behalf of Holland America.

In a memo to DBA members June 12, Ellis expressed concern that the port lectures, which would be limited to a small number of businesses, would put other merchants at a disadvantage. Because the program requires participating businesses to pay sales commissions and to buy other advertising, there would be a bias against smaller operators with limited budgets, she said.

``The tourism business community in Juneau has recently united to resist organized anti-tourism efforts, and is now a cohesive unit working for a common goal,'' Ellis wrote. ``The port lecture type of program, because it is so limited in nature, has the potential to divide a business community that needs to stay unified and focused....

``It is interesting to note that the businesses in Juneau most eager to participate are large, Caribbean-based jewelry stores.''

But Robbs of Little Switzerland wrote a ``protest'' letter to downtown merchants, rebutting Ellis.

``Did you know that passengers cruising Southeast Alaska are never verbally informed by the cruise lines that shopping is available in Juneau?'' she asked. ``As it now stands, passengers are told to shop in Ketchikan and Sitka, and tour in Juneau.''

Rod Swope, co-owner of Galligaskins, a clothes and gift store, and vice president of Destination Juneau, said there needs to be equity in any port promotion program.

``There can't be a limited number this can work for,'' Swope said. ``And I don't think there should be a percentage-of-sales fee. And from what I understand, percentages vary.''

Al Parrish, vice president for Holland America, said his company certainly didn't want any controversy. DBA and Destination Juneau asked for a presentation on the program and they got one, he emphasized.

``We don't want to come into any community that it's going to be a controversy,'' Parrish said today. ``We have not forced it; we have not pushed it.... I don't understand what's the matter with Juneau. I really don't. It's the most controversial town.''

But Reinwand, the lobbyist, said Holland America is culpable because it could direct On-Board Media to offer a different port promotion program in which every business pays the same fees and commissions, with no one forced to do additional advertising in magazines and videos produced by the cruise line.

``That's where the deception is coming in. They're not saying, `What kind of program do you want?''' he said.

``Well, it sounds like Jerry doesn't understand the program,'' Parrish responded. ``Playing this thing out in the press isn't going to be helpful to anybody. I feel saddened and very disheartened. ... We're going to walk away from the program in Juneau.''

Hugh Treadwell of On-Board Media did not return calls this morning.

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