The last cruise ship of the season left the port of Juneau on September 30. Just over one million passengers visited the capital city this summer, more than a five percent increase from the prior year. Cruise ship infrastructure, waterfront development, visitor impacts and economic benefits are often discussed in Juneau in a local context – how do these things affect Juneau? But these issues are relevant region-wide and affect the region’s ability to host ships and provide services, though Juneau has not been involved in discussions on a region-wide level.

The port of Juneau is part of a system, and to be successful, Juneau’s infrastructure should be complementary to the infrastructure in Vancouver, Seattle, Ketchikan, Skagway, Hoonah and other destinations. Ketchikan is upgrading its infrastructure, Skagway is debating what do in its town – recall that CBJ took a decade to decide how to do Juneau docks – and there are ongoing changes in all of the other ports.

Changes and upgrades in infrastructure are largely driven by the changes of the profile of ships that visit Southeast. New next summer will be visits from the Norwegian Bliss. The cruise ship will have up to 4,500 passengers on board, along with about 2,100 crew members. Most of the current fleet brings passenger counts in the 2,000 to 3,000 range. Not so long ago, many of the dockings at Marine Park were 700-foot-long ships with 1,500 passengers.

The public rarely sees the tremendous amount of coordination amongst the ship and dock personnel and tour operators to efficiently get people on tours and return them to town with time for shopping and dining. The region needs similar coordination and planning.

CBJ has approximately $28 million in debt payments left on the new cruise ship docks. These payments are made from passenger fee revenues. With visitation numbers projected to keep growing over the next two years, the construction of the docks will likely pan out to be a good decision. CBJ’s goal would be to manage that debt, as well as other ongoing capital and operational costs, to achieve what the city and industry needs, and hopefully retire that debt earlier than required.

With increased visitation, CBJ will have increased demands on all public services. But to understand the long run, the city should pay attention to activities in the other ports and determine how it fits in the larger system.

(This is written by the City Manager’s office and originally appeared in the October 15, 2017 Juneau Empire in a segment called, “City Corner”)