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The isolated tourist hotspot taking action to stop overtourism from cruise ships

Simon Calder’s Travel

Every year, a swarm of tourists arrives in Alaska‘s capital city on cruise ships to see wonders the region has to offer.

Now, long-simmering tensions over Juneau‘s tourism boom are coming to a head over a new voter initiative aimed at giving residents a respite from the influx.

A rule that would ban cruise ships with 250 or more passengers from docking in Juneau on Saturdays qualified for a ballot, setting the stage for a debate about how much tourism is too much in a city that is experiencing first-hand the impacts of climate change.

The measure would also ban ships on July 4, a day when locals flock to a downtown parade.

The “ship-free Saturdays” initiative that qualified this week will go to voters unless the local Assembly enacts a similar measure by August 15, which is seen as unlikely.

Juneau, accessible only by water or air, is home to the Mendenhall Glacier, a major draw for the cruise passengers who arrive on multi-story ships towering over parts of the modest downtown skyline. Many residents of this city of about 32,000 have concerns about increased traffic, congested trails and the frequent buzz of sight-seeing helicopters transporting visitors to the Mendenhall and other glaciers.

Deborah Craig, who has lived in Juneau for decades, supports ship-free Saturdays. Craig, who lives across the channel from where the ships dock, often hears their early-morning fog horns and broadcast announcements made to passengers that are audible across the water.

Cruise ships are docked on June 9, 2023, in downtown Juneau, Alaska
Cruise ships are docked on June 9, 2023, in downtown Juneau, Alaska (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

The current “overwhelming” number of visitors diminishes what residents love so much about Juneau, she said.

“It’s about preserving the lifestyle that keeps us in Juneau, which is about clean air, clean water, pristine environment and easy access to trails, easy access to water sports and nature,” she said of the initiative.

“There’s this perception that some people are not welcoming of tourists, and that’s not the case at all,” Craig said. “It’s about volume. It’s about too much — too many in a short period of time overwhelming a small community.”

The current cruise season runs from early April to late October.

Opponents of the initiative say limiting dockings will hurt local businesses that rely heavily on tourism and could invite…

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