Tourism generates fewer complaints

Flightseeing trips still seen, or heard, as a nuisance, say some Juneau residents

Posted: Sunday, June 26, 2005

Fewer tourists are picking flowers from driveway gardens this summer, which is something a local tour-operator group says indicates that its tread-lightly message is getting through.

Speaking to business leaders at a Juneau Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Friday, Tourism Best Management Practices coordinators said they have received fewer complaints than in years before about the tourism industry intruding on Juneau residents.

But locals are still aggravated with a number of flightseeing tours flying in "low-use zones" and at low altitudes, said Kirby Day of Princess Cruises and Bob James of Gastineau Guiding, coordinators of the effort to set guidelines for operators.

"We want to allow businesses to grow, but without a lot of angst in the community," James said.

Since 1997, TBMP has received complaints from residents and worked toward writing new guidelines each year that would minimize the invasive presence of the tourism industry.

This season, tour buses larger than a minivan are not passing by the Governor's Mansion and other residential roads on 12th Street and Calhoun Avenue.

All vehicles, including vans and taxis, are encouraged to use the right lane only when driving on Egan Drive. And transportation operators are encouraged to schedule bus trips according to passenger capacity, rather than running buses with only four passengers, Day said.

James said that last summer buses were stopping anywhere along Twin Lakes for views of salmon and idling along curbsides, but now are parking in designated areas.

Day said flightseeing tours are not breaking the law, but residents are still complaining of their presence near popular hiking trails and parks. Flightseeing operators have seen growth in customers, but James said recent discussions with the air tour companies have been productive.

"TBMP set the guidelines and we fly by those guidelines," said Melita Welling, ground operations manager for NorthStar Helicopters. She added the company had not received many complaints.

The 2005 TBMP guidelines say helicopters must stay above 1,500 feet, and floatplanes should maintain a minimum altitude of 1,000 feet.

Flightseeing tours are supposed to avoid flying over Perseverance and Granite Creek Basin, the Peterson Trail, the Eagle River and Eagle Glacier Cabin and the John Muir Cabin areas.

In May 2004, TBMP received 40 complaints and in May 2005 it received 24 complaints.

A McDowell Group survey showed that in 1998 when Juneau had 566,000 tourists, 17 percent of residents wanted an increase in tourism. But in 2003, when there were 776,000 travelers, 29 percent said they were comfortable with growth.

"We believe in that TBMP has been involved with some part of that," Day said

Business leaders asked how many more tourists Juneau could handle before busting at the seams. In their personal opinion, James and Day said, Juneau still needs to work on accommodating traffic from five cruise ships a day.

Anchored ships do not contribute much to the local economy as passengers are less inclined to get off the ship for excursions, Day said.

The tour operators meet in the fall to review the complaints and set new guidelines. TBMP holds two public hearings a year as well.

"People should hold us accountable," Day said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com.



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