My turn: We should weigh-in all the aspects of tourism

Posted: Tuesday, August 28, 2007

"Juneau happy with tourism as it is" was the lead story Dec. 27. The article published results of the Juneau Tourism Community Opinion Survey that was conducted over 10 days in October. I'd like to ask a few questions about the survey while we're all here in town.

Sound off on the important issues at

1) Why's the survey done when all the ships are gone and Juneau's quiet instead of in July or August when we get up to 52 cruise ships in 10 days and we're stuffed with tourists and can't hear each other on the porch over flight-seeing noise?

2) The introduction of the survey report says the Juneau cruise visitor volume was 951,400 passengers in 2006. But wait. What about those 420,000 crew member visits the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau cruise ship roster projected for 2006? In a survey on visitor numbers, how can you not count 420,000 visits?

3) Why has the survey inserted leading questions such as, "The Tourism Best Management Practices program is intended to reduce impacts on neighborhoods. Are you aware of the TBMP program?" but not questions such as, "Should we cap how many tons of garbage the tourism industry puts in the landfill every year?"

Juneau began paying for these surveys four years before the Wall Street Journal said crowds and helicopter noise made our town as desirable a tourist destination as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster site. Since the surveys started, cruise ship tourists here have gone from 380,600 in 1995 to 951,400 in 2006, yet in every survey the numbers of respondents who want more tourism, less tourism or the same amount of tourism has remained almost the same.

Surveys can be timed and questions crafted to achieve a desired outcome. The city pays for this survey and takes $8 per cruise ship tourist and 5 percent sales tax, but the $8 goes to port maintenance and tourist enhancement projects and there's no sales tax collected on flying and fishing charters people book online with their cruise. So why are we doing this? That might make a good survey question.

The McDowell Group, which conducted the survey, didn't claim Juneau is "Happy with tourism as it is." The Empire did that. The McDowell Group said, "The percentage of Juneau residents who felt that the tourism industry had an overall positive impact on their household remained stable at 40 percent."

I'd like to see some core issues on the next survey. Let's ask:

1) Do you support a cumulative pollution discharge limit for cruise ships in our harbor?

2) Do you favor one day a week with no cruise ships?

3) Should we limit numbers of ships at the docks to prevent loss of life in the event of a landslide or dock collapse?"

I'll explain that last question. Google "Alaska's Digital Archives" and type in "Juneau landslide" to see South Franklin street with 10 feet of mud over it. Based on my work as a commercial diver under the town docks off South Franklin, I contend that the bottom there is no more stable than what's up on the hillside. When Juneau dredged 2,700 cubic yards of bottom from the base of cruise ship dock pilings to bring in bigger ships, and added a library, parking garage and bus parking lot above the docks, we greatly increased potential for a slide like the 1936 slide or the Skagway dock collapse of 1994. If that happens here during tourist season we're responsible, but we're not set up for handling mass casualties. Let's see what percentage of our community is comfortable with that.

When the city considers its next impacts of tourism survey I hope they'll craft it in the spirit that tourism is like food. It's a good thing but you get sick on too much of it. If each cruise visitor in 2007 was a calorie, and we have $1.4 million (including crew) in a five-month season, we're at more than 9,400 calories a day. We've grown fat. The opinion survey is supposed to weigh the impacts of tourism to the community and it's a commendable goal, but to weigh-in honestly you have to put both feet on the scale.

• Dick Callahan is a Juneau resident.

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