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I have traveled from Tibet to Thailand, from Siberia to Spain and from Costa Rica to Kenya. I have experienced many cultures, climates and ecosystems firsthand. No place on the planet comes close to the beauty, diversity and wildness of Alaska.
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A close friend of mine recently took a cruise to Alaska. She has been on many cruises all over the world. She had many wonderful things to say about Juneau and her trip up the Inside Passage. However, the quote that stands out in my mind is the following, "this is the most popular cruise destination in the world and you are selling it cheap. Why is that?" Good question. She wondered if Alaskans realized what a treasure they had. She compared it to having a one-of-a-kind handmade jacket and selling it at Kmart prices.
Alaska is one of a kind. We now have folks clamoring to get here just to get out of the heat. We have one of the most precious resources on the planet and a $50 head tax is "chump change" for most of our visitors.
A few years ago, I fell on the Dan Moeller ridge and needed stitches in my left leg. When I arrived at the emergency room, I was told that I would need to wait a couple of hours. Several passengers from the cruise ships were ahead of me, one with a broken femur, another with a heart attack and still another with the flu. Everyone was maxed out, and the doctors were working overtime and were exhausted. If visitors knew that a tax would help cover the cost of more emergency medical care and an infrastructure they depend on, they would gladly pay $50 and more.
One summer my daughter and I spent two weeks on a cruise ship with a program called "Family Hostel." It was a two-week trip that included the Gulf of Alaska. We had many hours to discuss the benefits and impacts of tourism on our small communities. They were incredibly sympathetic and shocked that many of their dollars did not go into the hands of local people. When they learned that many of the local businesses had been bought out by the cruise industries themselves they were saddened and dismayed.
Ballot Measure 2 not only puts money back into the communities that are affected by tourism, it provides for "truth in advertising" for our visitors. They want to be informed. They want to support people who actually live here year around.
Finally, I would like to speak to the scare tactics and propaganda of those who are encouraging a "no" vote. This tax will not hurt our economy. The cruise ships will continue to come in greater and greater numbers providing jobs for our kids in the future. When my children worked in the tourism industry the visitors were shocked to learn they actually were born and raised in Juneau. You're not from Tennessee? Nebraska? Texas? They worked side by side with folks who were here "just for the summer."
Have you noticed all the ads against Ballot Measure 2? They are paid for by those who make enormous profits from the tourists. I am encouraging you to vote yes on Ballot Measure 2 so we all profit. Don't sell this incredible Alaska experience cheap.
Linda Buckley is a Juneau resident. She is an educator, musician, mother, grandmother and nature enthusiast.