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Record number of cruise passengers expected in Juneau this summer

By ALEX McCARTHY Juneau Empire

Cruise Line International Association Alaska President John Binkley speaks to the Juneau Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. Binkley estimated that a record number of cruise passengers will visit Juneau this summer.

It’s a good thing Juneau updated its cruise docks this year, because they’ll be busier than ever this summer.

John Binkley, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Alaska President, said Thursday that a record number of cruise passengers are expected in Juneau this summer. In speaking to a packed house at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Binkley shared that CLIA estimates that 1,055,000 people will come to Juneau via cruise ship this summer.

By CLIA’s estimation, cruise passengers this summer will spend $183 million in Juneau from May 1-Sept. 30, an average of $1,233,000 every day.

“So the next time you’re waiting behind a tour bus and you see a lot of congestion,” Binkley said as a chuckle began to rise at the luncheon, “just think that, ‘Today, there was a million and a quarter dollars spent, outside money that’s coming into Juneau, into our economy here by those visitors,’ and maybe that’ll make you feel a little bit better.”

All over the world, cruise ship tourism is growing rapidly. Binkley said that CLIA’s 30 or so cruise lines have seen about a 7 percent increase every year in the past decade. In 2017, more than 25 million people worldwide are expected to take a cruise. Therefore, around 4 percent of CLIA’s patrons are expected to come through Juneau.

The growth is expected to continue, particularly for Alaska. In 2018, Windstar Cruises is scheduled to begin taking passengers through the state. In 2019, a trio of major cruise companies — Azamara, Cunard and Viking — are also expected to join the fray. Not only are boats becoming more numerous, but they’re also getting bigger. Average passenger space is expected to increased by 15 percent from 2015-2018.

The first cruise ship of the 2017 season is expected this coming Monday, May 1, and Binkley could hardly contain his excitement.

“It’s a great time in spring, a great greening, really,” Binkley said. “Not only our communities as the leaves come out, the grass comes out, but as the green comes into our cash registers as well.”

How that green is used, however, remains a point of contention between the City and Borough of Juneau and CLIA.

All quiet on litigation front

In April 2016, CLIA filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that CBJ misused passenger fees. The city collects entry fees from every passenger, under the condition that those fees are used to benefit cruise ships and cruise passengers.

CLIA argues that the city has used marine passenger fees in a way that doesn’t affect the cruise ships or passengers, namely the fact that the city extended its Seawalk and built a small artificial island for its new whale statue.

“For the privilege of coming to Juneau, you have to pay to get into the community, and they charge the ship for that,” Binkley said. “So our contention is, you can do that, but it has to be a service to the ship. A dock, something that’s necessary for that ship to call into port, but you can’t charge a general tax on that.”

Binkley said that he’s been talking extensively with Juneau City Manager Rorie Watt, and that the two have gotten along well. Binkley joked that if he and Watt were in charge of the negotiations, a settlement might have been reached by now. CBJ has already spent $283,000 on the litigation, and recently voted to set aside an additional $100,000 for future expenses.

At the moment, no action is being taken in the case, as both sides have agreed to take a break for the time being. Binkley spent almost all of his presentation Thursday with a smile on his face, clearly expecting the two sides to reach an agreement. He doesn’t have a guess on how long it will take, but he’s looking forward to making progress with the case.

“I’m a very optimistic,” Binkley said, “and I’m hopeful that we can get this thing settled without having the expense and the time and the acrimony that’s associated with a full-blown court proceedings.”

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