My Turn: Taking Celebration for granted

Poor customer service marred past editions of the Native gathering

Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2006

While waiting for the grand exit at Celebration 2006 to commence, I encountered a young woman from Ketchikan. She said that she wished that the Sealaska Heritage Institute would consider giving Ketchikan a turn at hosting Celebration. I agree. Unlike her, I don't have any kind of personal interest or community self-interest in this. I simply feel that if another community, such as Ketchikan, were given the opportunity to host this bi-annual event, they would not take it for granted.

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Now, before any official representative of the institute jumps in to do damage control, I do realize and appreciate that many Juneau entities have financially supported the effort to host Celebration in Juneau. Nevertheless, during the last two Celebrations, I did not feel that the guests' tremendous efforts to attend were appreciated by the hotels in which they stayed.

We found the level of customer service at the hotels we chose on our last two visits to be far less than stellar. In 2004, there were several errors made by the hotel in our reservations, and little or no attempt to remedy the situation or even make amends. The members of our group, who normally occupy five or more rooms, were forced to crowd into two small rooms for the first night of our stay due to the hotel personnel's mistake. Incidentally, this oversight was only one among many.

In 2006, we chose a more upscale establishment that was closer to the Centennial Hall. Needless to say, the cost was more upscale as well, yet the hotel was grossly understaffed. The lines for check-in were unreasonably long, with a solitary, novice clerk, to make matters even slower. There were no ice machines available to guests, so they had to walk to the front desk with the ice bucket, where the attendant was frequently too swamped to get the ice for them. This may sound like a minor inconvenience, but the rooms were overly hot and humid. Furthermore, there was no housekeeping staff in the evening if additional towels were needed. Again, a guest would need to walk down to the front desk, where the clerk was supposed to supply the towels, but was usually too preoccupied to do so. This, too, may sound like only a minor inconvenience, but at $189 per night, per room, far better service than this should be provided. The restaurant service was poor, as well. Even with adequate staffing, the servers would take excessively long to come and take the customers' orders. More than one party, desiring to attend Celebration events in a timely fashion, left the restaurant due to the slow service.

Had these been isolated incidents, I would not bother the people of Juneau with this letter. Nevertheless, many people with whom I spoke found similar experiences while visiting Juneau.

Quite a number of the groups who perform at Celebration are from Juneau, but the rest of us raise funds for the two years between every Celebration just to get there. We flip pancakes, bake cakes, fry up fried bread, cook salmon and wash cars. Individual families save their dividends to shop in your stores. Most of the time, Celebration itself has been a great experience. This last one, in particular, was well-run and flowed very smoothly in terms of the timing. Unfortunately, due to these other problems, the entire experience was not as positive.

As many of us throughout Southeast Alaska begin our fundraising for Celebration 2008, I hope that the hotel and business establishments, as well as the Juneau Chamber of Commerce will bear all this in mind and file this complaint away only temporarily and re-visit the issue before June 2008 rolls around. It takes more than computer-generated signs to make a group feel they are truly welcome.

• Dionne S. Jackson is a Sitka resident.

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