Regarding Empire publisher Don Smith's recent editorial comparing Juneau's tourism situation with that of Hawaii, Mr. Smith is comparing completely different situations. Hawaii's tourism-based economy has been in a slump since 1992. The events of Sept. 11 certainly impacted it, but the downturn in Hawaii is linked to Japan's uncertain economy and competition from other popular destinations like the Caribbean and Alaska.
As Hawaii's tourism numbers have fallen, Juneau's have climbed dramatically. A recent Empire story reported the events of Sept. 11 will further increase the number of cruise ship passengers arriving in our port next season. Kirby Day, Princess Cruises' Juneau representative, was quoted as saying Princess will add another ship and is anticipating 17,000 more passengers than last year. There is no sign that cruise ship passenger numbers will drop during the next several years.
Prior to Sept. 11 the cruise industry was engaged in a frenzied competition to build huge mega-ships, many over 100,000 gross tons. As these new ships come on line, corporate reserves have fallen and companies like Princess Cruises and Holland America have aggressively sold berths for lower and lower prices to fill the new ships. As profits from berth sales decline, cruise lines must look elsewhere to cover their expanding bottom line. Where will the profits come from? Owners of shoreside excursions will have to hand over larger percentages of their profits for the privilege of doing business with the cruise lines. And the cruise lines will sell more and more merchandise onboard before tourists disembark and buy from local merchants.
Who loses? Juneau businesses and the city because of lost sales tax revenue.
If Mr. Smith were really concerned about Juneau's economic future, he would be asking why Juneau is not benefiting more from the huge number of passengers we host every year. When a local corporation as important to Juneau as Goldbelt has to lay off 40 people because of "reduced income from tourism" (Empire, Oct. 25), something is drastically wrong. Mr. Smith should assign a team of investigative reporters to find out why tourism businesses are failing in a town that hosts over 700,000 cruise ship passengers a year.
Mr. Smith questions whether in its "insular oblivion" Juneau is too caught up in deciding whether to place limits on the cruise industry. I question whether Mr. Smith has insulated himself so much from the community that he is completely oblivious to what's really going on.
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