ATIA Conference Report
The Tourism Best Management Practices (TBMP) program has been ongoing in Southeast since 1997 with the intent to minimize the impacts of tourism in a way that addresses the concerns of residents and the tourism industry. It’s a collaborative program between Juneau tour operators, cruise lines, transportation providers, and the City and Borough of Juneau.
The program came up several times on Wednesday morning at the Alaska Travel Industry Association annual convention (this year in Juneau) during the “Community and a Sense of Place–Tourism in Community Planning” session, in which panelists Kirby Day, port operations manager for Princess Cruises/Holland America Group, and Beth McKibben, senior planner for the City and Borough of Juneau, provided insight into how various entities in Juneau have endeavored to meet the needs of the tourism industry and the community in which it operates.
Juneau has a year-round population of approximately 30,000 people, and yet more than four times that many people visited Juneau in 2019. While the influx of people has many economic benefits, anyone who lives in a community with a large number of tourists knows how that can be disruptive, and it’s perhaps even more noticeable in a community that, off season, is quite remote.
Both Day and McKibben emphasized that the most important aspects of creating harmony in Juneau amongst perhaps conflicting industry and community concerns are honest communication and education.
Explaining the sometimes-hidden benefits of tourism is “something we’ve been working on for many years,” Day explains. “Tourism benefits everybody in the community in some way, shape, or form. If for no other reason, 25 percent of Juneau’s sales tax collected annually comes from visitors in the summertime,” which pays for plowed roads and school improvements, for example.
McKibben gave the specific example of the Seawalk, a waterfront walkway along the Gastineau Channel in downtown Juneau that was constructed as a direct result of the tourism industry.
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For McKibben, her job as a city planner means she works to meet the needs of community and industry, which can be complex. There are many plans addressing the variety of needs in downtown Juneau, which serves a multitude of industry and community activities. “We have more than an alphabet’s list of plans that touch downtown,” McKibben laughed. To address the issue, the City and Borough of Juneau initiated the Blueprint Downtown Area Plan. “What we’re trying to do with Blueprint is pull together those plans and do an inventory of what’s still relevant, what’s been accomplished, what hasn’t been accomplished but is no longer relevant, and what we need to add.” McKibben anticipates that a draft of the plan will be prepared by mid-2020 for public review and comment.
McKibben reported that she has heard concerns from residents that Juneau simply has too many visitors, and some have proposed capping the number of visitors allowed to visit each year. But Day explained that was the exact sentiment many people were expressing in the late ‘90s when the TPMB program was put in place. At the time, Juneau was struggling to accommodate 500,000 tourists in a season. But with the TPMB program working to address community concerns, the community has felt more at ease for many years.
So what does the TPMB program do?
“The [City and Borough of Juneau] was good enough to give us the opportunity to try a program, under a voluntary compliance program, that allowed us to reach out and listen to the community about concerns and get our operators, the cruise industry, and others in the visitor industry together to come up with voluntary guidelines that we could follow to improve upon each year,” Day explains.
Initially the program had twenty guidelines, but for 2019 the program published more than ninety guidelines, ranging from managing trash to avoiding road congestion to keeping noise pollution to a minimum and during certain hours.
TPMB gets feedback from the community in several ways. One vital method is through its tourism hotline, which is staffed by Travel Juneau. Day says community members can call in, email, or submit to a website their concerns and complaints. The complaints are forwarded to Day, Travel Juneau, and any applicable tour company. It is vital to the program’s success that, after the concern is received, the guidelines specify that the tour company involved respond to the caller or emailer.
“The great part about this is it creates a dialogue,” Day said. “Nine times out of ten when we have a dialogue [about a problem] we can solve it.”
The complaint and response are then logged and reported to the public through various websites, and this also creates an opportunity for improvement. “At the end of every year we have the opportunity to go back and look and see what we did well on and what things we need to work on next year,” Days explains.
The TPMB program also hosts a public meeting annually during the winter before the guidelines are set for the following season to get feedback. “It’s really turned into an excellent program,” he says. “You’re not going to solve every problem ever year and make every single person happy… [but] the benefit and success of this program has been creating a dialogue.”
The TPMB is a mature program, running for more than two decades. Combined with the City and Borough of Juneau’s efforts over those same years to address travel industry growth and pursue necessary infrastructure projects, the southeast community has managed to accommodate a rapidly growing industry that’s a huge boon to the region’s economy.
Day and McKibben encouraged communities that are struggling with the impacts of heavy tourism or have a community that is vocal about how the industry is affecting their lifestyle to keep the lines of communication open. Make sure industry operators, local government, local chambers and travel associations, and community members are aware of both what’s happening and how that benefits them.
“It’s hard to convince those that aren’t directly in the benefit line of tourism that it does benefit them when they’re being affected by impacts.” Day says. “Unless you talk to them and unless you’re really working hard to fix that, they’re always going to feel that they don’t have a dog in the fight… You’re not going to get to everybody, but I think you have to try.”