Doctoral student studies Wrangell tourism industry

For communities around the globe, tourism can be both a blessing and a curse. The industry can provide a much-needed economic bump, but in Venice, millions of international arrivals inflate prices for residents and replace locally owned businesses with tourist traps. Closer to home, the city of Ketchikan has hosted cruise ships with capacities of nearly half its population, which can crowd out residents and risk the town’s authentic character.

As the tourism industry expands, Alaska communities are seeking a path forward that will allow them to hold onto their decision-making power, keep economic benefits in town and retain their cultural distinctiveness. Doctoral student Ryan Naylor of Pennsylvania State University is conducting a research project on how tourism impacts a community’s ability to determine its own future.

On April 25, he presented some preliminary thoughts from his work to the Wrangell Borough Assembly. After analyzing data throughout the summer and fall, he hopes to return to Wrangell in December to present more concrete findings.

Though this work is in the early stages, he hopes to produce something that Wrangell and communities throughout Southeast could use to guide their decision-making processes. “I want this research to be able to benefit local communities, rather than something that just sits on the shelf that will never be read,” he said.

Wrangell, Petersburg and Ketchikan are his case studies. Each community has its own attitudes toward tourism and each is having different conversations about the future of the industry. For Wrangell and Petersburg, that might involve questions about how to sustainably scale up. For Ketchikan, which anticipates more than 1.4 million cruise ship visitors this summer, the conversation is geared toward determining acceptable limits.

Naylor has been impressed with the Wrangell borough’s community engagement efforts, particularly surrounding the 6-Mile mill site and the tourism best management practices program. “At the end of the day, I truly believe that tourism, unlike many other industries, is a community-wide industry that has community-wide impacts as well as community-wide responsibility to manage it properly,” he said. Because all residents will be affected by the direction the industry takes in their town, they should be included in the conversation.

Living in Wrangell last winter, he conducted 40 interviews with community stakeholders, observed daily life and helped out around town where he could.

One of his favorite parts about living and working in Wrangell was experiencing residents’ love for the town firsthand. “It’s always fun to see the passion that individuals will have when talking about their town,” he said. “Everybody here wants to ensure that the future of Wrangell is sustainable. That passion is surprising and exciting.”

However, living through his first Southeast winter was “a shock.” The darkness and heavy rain made it difficult to get around without a car, but he stuck it out. “Wrangell is an extremely inviting community and so it was very fun to be able to do my research here,” he recalled. “If you come into the community with the initiative to want to give back, the community is going to welcome you with open arms.”


Reader Comments(1)

Kimberly Metcalfe writes:

Large cruise ship tourism is ruining Juneau. We will see up to six large ships at least one day a week this year. We expect 1.7 million tourists plus crew. In addition to that, smaller ships and air travel will bring in even more tourists. My neighborhood is inundated with vehicular traffic. Walkers stream by and gawk at me working in my yard. Helicopters buzz overhead. My advice to Wrangell and Petersburg is to put the brakes on now before your nice towns are gone six months of the year.

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