Alaska's capital wants to set a cap on cruise ship visitors after record year

In a sign that overtourism has reached one of the world's most remote cities, authorities in Juneau, Alaska's capital, have taken steps to impose a cap on cruise ship arrivals. A new agreement between the city and the Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska (CLIA), set to take effect in 2026, will limit the number of cruise ship passengers who can disembark in Juneau to 16,000 from Sunday to Friday and just 12,000 on Saturdays.

Juneau's population of 32,000 welcomed a new high of 1.6 million visitors in 2023, with daily visitor numbers sometimes reaching as high as two-thirds of the resident population. There are plans to spread out the number of visitors and the impact of the new arrivals, including a new gondola at the city's Eaglecrest ski resort, a new boardwalk and increased capacity at the Mendenhall Glacier recreation area. But locals say the sheer volume of visitors is leading to traffic congestion and noise pollution from helicopter tourism focused on the region's glaciers.

Alexandra Pierce, director of the Juneau Visitor Industry, said in a statement about the move that the cruise industry “is critical to our local economy and we need to improve our infrastructure and increase our tour capacity to provide a great experience for our guests and reduce impacts on local residents.” Pierce continued, “With this agreement, we are committing to a cap to manage our busiest days and meeting annually to ensure our visitor numbers remain sustainable.”

The decision to limit visitor numbers has sparked some controversy, however. CLIA has praised the plan as a “balanced and thoughtful approach to making Juneau a great place to live and visit,” and described the process as a pragmatic exchange of views and “ongoing, direct dialogue with local communities.” That dialogue, the organization told CBS MoneyWatch, “is the best way to collaboratively self-regulate to preserve great experiences for residents and visitors while creating a predictable market for the many local businesses that rely on the cruise industry.”

But critics say the measure doesn't go far enough and seems like a holding pattern. “It feels like we're being taken for a ride again,” says Karla Hart, a local advocate for cruise-free Saturdays in the city. The solution she's proposing is still awaiting signatures so it can be put before voters in October, but it could include a complete ban on cruise ships carrying 250 or more passengers on Saturdays and on Independence Day on July 4.

There is a limit of five large cruise ships per day for the current season, but the season has been extended from early April to late October, meaning residents have to contend with the impact of high visitor numbers for most of the year.

Anna Harden

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