Alaska considers new limits for cruise ships to combat overtourism

ByKelly McCarthy ABCNews logo
Wednesday, July 10, 2024 2:45PM

The pristine natural beauty of Alaska boasts breathtaking landscapes with vast national parks, glaciers and 6,640 miles of coastline that makes the destination particularly popular for cruises.

Now, the capital port city of Juneau, where crowds have been sailing in in record numbers, is considering a limit on large cruise ships with 250 passengers or more that would cap the number of daily visitors starting in 2026 to help combat overtourism.

New agreement in Alaska to limit cruise ship visitors

Last month, cruise lines including Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian signed an agreement with Juneau tourism officials to help manage the thousands of passengers getting off the boats at the same time and visiting the area.

While the numbers are subject to change, Sundays through Fridays, cruise crowds are expected to be capped at 16,000. That number will be limited to 12,000 on Saturdays.

The new agreement expands on last year's decision to implement a limit of five cruise ships per day in Juneau.

Juneau is home to some amazing outdoor attractions, such as whale watching and Mendenhall Glacier, but some local residents said they've had enough of the post-pandemic crowds.

"I personally came to the realization that Alaska was being sold as a friendly place and that my friendliness was a commodity for the cruise lines," resident Karla Hart told ABC News. "The idea is just one day every week to just take a pause -- to have our community back."

In 2023, a record 1.6 million cruise passengers visited Juneau, including Sarah Grathwohlwent, who was there for the first time earlier this spring and documented her journey on social media.

"It was beautiful to go and see a glacier -- was my first one," she said. "I'm not against limiting the amount of cruise ships, I think it would make it nicer for the locals who live there year round."

Overtourism around the world prompts new crowd management systems

Scott Keyes, travel expert and founder of Going.com, said that the challenges of overtourism are not isolated to Juneau.

"We have been setting new travel records every month so far in 2024, and there's no reason to think that's going to stop," he told ABC News.

In the U.S., Mount Rainier is among the National Parks that have begun implementing timed entry reservations to help manage large crowds. In Europe, hotspot destinations like Venice and Barcelona have implemented day trip fees for visitors.

Over the weekend in Barcelona, thousands of locals protested in the streets with water guns to take a stand against tourism, which they say has resulted in a higher cost of living for residents.

Due to increased demand in Athens, Greece, the city is also studying limits on tourist capacity.

Experts believe that as more destinations see surges in visitors, local officials may implement restrictions to deal with crowds diplomatically.

"I'm all in favor of steps taken to try to make sure you're managing that properly and respecting the local environment and everything," Keyes said.

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