Planning for tourism

From the Caribbean to Denali, towns are guiding change

Posted: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Jackson Hole, Wyo., at the gateway to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, has struggled with tourism issues familiar in Southeast Alaska.

Development, traffic, helicopter tours and snowmachines have been been part of community dialogue. So have broader discussions about the area's future.

Jackson Hole residents hold diverse opinions but have found common ground by focusing on shared values, said Steve Duerr, executive director of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.

"A lot of things we don't agree on, but we're trying to focus on issues we can agree on," he said.

 

Community groups have worked together on oil and gas development policies, helicopter tour limits, housing issues and a pathways system that gives access to bikes, pedestrians and horses, Duerr said. Residents haven't been able to agree about snowmachines, however.

"Growth has continued and neither side has gotten what they wanted," he said. "We realize we have to work together."

Teton County, which includes the town of Jackson, has a population of 18,000. The area sees 3 million to 4 million visitors a year. Jackson Hole is the valley that runs south from Yellowstone National Park to the Snake River Canyon.

Jackson residents voted down a bed tax in the mid-1990s because they wanted to control growth and limit tourism-related marketing. State law would have required that a percentage of the tax be used for promotion, and not everyone agrees with that requirement, said Franz Camenzind, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance.

 

"We don't feel that we need any more summer advertisement. But we wouldn't mind promoting the winter and shoulder season," he said.

Jackson Hole saw its first helicopter tour company go into business this summer. Camenzind said his group and the chamber supported efforts to prohibit scenic flights in the area. The two groups also are discussing ways to protect wildlife.

"We're very much like Juneau in that we're an island surrounded entirely by public land and there's a finite amount of private land for development," he said.

The Jackson Hole experience holds lessons for Juneau, especially when it comes to the community's willingness to work together, according to Diane Kelsay, a marketing and tourism specialist who worked on Jackson Hole planning efforts and is involved in long-range planning in Juneau.

 

"They have a plan, they have been working with it and adjust it as they go. They're determined to use it," she said. "It's not always thinking about how do you control tourism, but how you manage it so not only do you have a great lifestyle, but your visitors have a great experience when they come to visit you."

In some ways, the loss of lodging tax revenue has made managing tourism more difficult in Jackson, Kelsay said.

"By defeating the tax, they had trouble coming up with a good tourism plan. They really gave up a lot of control by defeating it," she said.

A number of efforts to plan for and manage tourism are underway in the Juneau area. The city is studying alternate heliports in an effort to reduce aircraft noise. A plan for commercial trail use was approved by the Assembly in June, and the city is sponsoring a long-range tourism planning process.

Maria Gladziszewski, director of the city's tourism office, said it is helpful to look at how other communities have approached tourism.

"We're an isolated community and tend to think we're the only ones that have gone through this. Lots of communities all over have dealt with the growth of tourism," she said. "Lots have been successful and that's good to know."

Elsewhere in Alaska, Denali Borough communities took part in a planning workshop under the name Designing for Community in 1998. The effort is now inactive, but the project is having an influence on projects, according to Charlie Loeb, a local activist who was chairman of the Designing for Community steering committee.

The work has helped shape state Department of Transportation plans for the business corridor along the Parks Highway that leads to the Denali National Park entrance. Some people call the area "Glitter Gulch." Loeb prefers to use the phrase "Nanana Canyon Business District."

The Designing for Community effort helped prompt another look at the state's plans for the corridor, allowing for improved pedestrian access and traffic circulation through the area, Loeb said.

The planning project also has helped focus efforts on creating a town center or a more traditional downtown in Healy, he said. A community playground built last month is one step toward that goal, Loeb said.

"A town that's just a tourist town rarely has much character. While that's not universally true, there tends to be something that's missing. People like visiting places that are living, breathing, working communities," he said.

Chris Beck, an Anchorage-based land-use and tourism planner involved in the Denali project, said communities can use indirect tools to manage tourism without regulation or detailed zoning ordinances.

Regulation "often restricts the worst kind of development but doesn't bring out the best. The alternative is to provide advice instead of regulation as to what kind of buildings people want to see," Beck said.

Tourism growth can be difficult to control because changes fall into many different hands, he said.

"It's not a single decision a community can say yes or no to. The way tourism grows is spread to many different parties. Whether a business decides to grow or not to grow. Your neighbor decides to build a bed and breakfast. A public agency decides to build a road or dock," Beck said.

Where and how a community builds docks, cabins or roads factor into tourism management. Marketing is another tool, he said.

The Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, which represents 300 wilderness-based tourism businesses statewide, embarked on a "Guiding Alaska Tourism" program about three years ago to encourage community involvement in tourism planning, said executive director Sarah Leonard. The group has funding for a variety of planning efforts, from one-day forums to multi-year community planning projects, she said.

"It evolved out of many discussions in communities throughout Alaska. Many are facing increasing tourism growth," she said. "There can be both negative and positive impacts, but communities and tourism planners need to take a more proactive approach."

The organization has participated in tourism planning efforts in the Denali area, Cordova, Bristol Bay and the Chugach National Forest and hopes to expand the program, she said.

Nelson's Dockyard National Park in Antigua provides one example of tourism planning in the Caribbean. An old British naval base with 18th century historical buildings, the dockyard is a 15-square-mile "living park," said parks commissioner Ann Marie Martin.

The dockyard became a national park in 1984 after two years of planning. Dave Russell, a consultant who worked on the Nelson's Dockyard project and is involved with Juneau's tourism plan, said the park grew out of tensions between the expatriate yachting community and local residents.

"What happened is the dockyard folks assumed management by default because they were there. Ultimately it was a problem for the government of the day because local folks were not getting the kind of jobs or business opportunities they wanted. There was a sense that something had to be done. The solution was the creation of the whole area as a national park," he said.

By mandate, the park is financed with user fees and operates without government subsidies or grants. The planning effort also led to the creation of 20 locally-owned businesses, Russell said.

Nelson's Dockyard sees about 120,000 visitors a year; approximately 80 percent are cruise ship passengers. Legislation protects the area's natural and historic resources. Regulations also cover parking, garbage disposal and other day-to-day operations, Martin said. The three communities in the park have a population of about 6,000.

"We tried to get all of the stakeholders involved, taxi drivers, hoteliers, people who lived in the villages. Incorporate them in the planning process as early as possible because they'll make or break the project," she said.

Today, Antigua is dredging its harbors to accommodate larger cruise ships and is trying to offer more diversified tours. Work continues with travelers, the cruise industry and local residents at Nelson's Dockyard, Martin said.

"It's an ongoing challenge. The key is to involve local stakeholders and get the community involved," she said.

On the Atlantic coast of Canada, Prince Edward Island has about 140,000 residents and sees about 1.4 million visitors each year. The island is the fictional home of children's book character Anne of Green Gables. Its economy is built on tourism, agriculture and fishing. Most of the island's visitors arrive via bridge by car or RV, although cruise ship tourism is growing.

This year, the island community of Charlottetown, population 60,000, will see about 11,000 cruise ship passengers and 21 ships, according to Kim Green, executive director of the Capital Commission of Prince Edward Island. The number of cruise ship passengers is expected to increase 61 percent next year, she said.

As a cruise destination, some people think the North Atlantic could become the next Alaska, but Charlottetown won't be ready without port and transportation improvements, Green said.

"We're working with the federal and provincial government, lobbying for an extension of our port to take larger ships in," she said.

Charlottetown also has invested in improvements along its waterfront, this summer opening an $8 million center called Founders' Hall that tells the history of Canada.

Island residents haven't embarked on a formal tourism management program, but the island sees a high concentration of visitors during July and August, said Jackie Waddell, program coordinator for the Island Nature Trust. Volunteers keep watch over the island's trails and rivers, reporting on use, wildlife and damage. A lack of zoning is a concern for some people as strip development along the island's roads becomes more common, she said.

"It's a political bullet no one is willing to bite," she said.

*****

Joanna Markell can be reached at joannam@juneauempire.com.



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