New agreement between Juneau and cruise industry marks big shift from past lawsuit

a docked cruise ship in Juneau Alaska
The Celebrity Millennium cruise ship docked at one of Juneau’s two city-owned cruise ship berths on May 17, 2022. (Photo by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

All of the major cruise lines that visit Juneau have signed an agreement with the city — the first of its kind in Alaska — committing to nine actions. The parties announced the agreement on Monday.

“This was kind of the grab bag of issues that came out of the task force that we wanted to get down on paper early, or first,” said Juneau Tourism Manager Alexandra Pierce.

She was referring to the city’s Visitor Industry Task Force, which recommended many of the commitments in this agreement back in March of 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting everything down.

The industry’s commitments include giving advance notice to the city of ship schedules and capacity numbers and keeping big, outdoor screens turned off while in port. They also agree to maximize support for local businesses and support the use of up to $10 million in cruise ship passenger taxes to expand Centennial Hall.

Renée Limoge Reeve is the vice president of government and community relations for Cruise Lines International Association in Alaska. She said there’s no enforcement mechanism — it’s just an agreement made in good faith. But she said the cruise lines do get something back, even if the text doesn’t really capture it.

“I wouldn’t say that we give up a lot,” Reeve said. “What I would say is that we are able to have a welcoming environment when we come to Juneau. … And it’s important, again, that we are good partners in the communities that we visit … so that we are welcomed. Because that improves the experience for the visitors that we’re bringing. You want to be welcomed in the community.”

Both Reeve and Pierce say this collaborative agreement is a big deal. It’s a huge shift from the adversarial relationship that came to a head in 2016 when CLIA Alaska sued the city over its collection and use of cruise passenger taxes.

“We have a relationship with CLIA that we built through a very, very painful lawsuit process where we’re pretty open and honest and able to communicate our community’s needs and concerns,” Pierce said. “And I think that this represents an effort to capitalize on that relationship and use it for good.”

The judge’s 2018 ruling in that case led the city and the industry to work together to decide how to spend those passenger taxes.

“And then people just got around the table and just started talking more,” Reeve said. “I would far rather have conversations and come to collaborative solutions this way than through anything like a lawsuit or a regulation or a law. I’d rather just have a conversation and make sure that we are following the will of the community.”

The city also has some leverage. It owns two of the four cruise ship docks in town, but it hasn’t historically taken an active role in how they’re scheduled.

“In the past, the city’s been a little bit more reactive to that information,” Pierce said. “And now we just want a bit more of a say in the process — we want to be a little bit more engaged with how our assets are being scheduled.”

Pierce said this agreement complements other longstanding relationships and programs in Juneau. For example, she said Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska will still handle logistics and scheduling for the cruise lines. And Tourism Best Management Practices, the industry’s voluntary program for fielding and responding to community complaints, will continue.

“You know, all of these different organizations and programs work together in concert to manage tourism in our community,” Pierce said. “And this is just another effort and another tool … and direct with the cruise lines as opposed to through a third party of some sort.”

Pierce said this may be the first of several agreements of this sort to come.

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Jeremy Hsieh is the deputy managing editor of the KTOO newsroom in Juneau. He’s a podcast fiend who’s worked in journalism since high school as a reporter, editor and television producer. He ran Gavel Alaska for 360 North from 2011 to 2016, and is big on experimenting with novel tools and mediums (including the occasional animated gif) to tell stories and demystify the news. Jeremy’s an East Coast transplant who moved to Juneau in 2008.

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