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Every summer, a million tourists pass through Southeast Alaska. It’s a boon to local retailers, who rely on the extra customers to make up for slower winter months. But with lots money being spent, business can get dirty. This spring, the state responded to complaints that onboard shopping experts were misleading passengers and smearing local stores by hitting these programs with a new set of rules. APRN’s Alexandra Gutierrez wanted to find out if the new regulations are actually working.
Just about every other store in Juneau’s shopping district sells jewelry. They advertise diamonds and tanzanite, steep discounts and free charms. But a sign on one storefront stands out: “Don’t see us on your cruise ship map??? We’d rather not give your cruise ship a kickback!!”
MEHAN: We put up that sign because a lot of people were unaware of the gimmicks that were going on the cruise lines …
Of the half dozen local business owners I talked to about these kickbacks, Mehan was the only who would agree to be quoted. Even then, he wouldn’t let me use his real name, out of fear of getting blackballed by the cruise industry.
Years ago, Mehan used to pay $25,000 plus 10 percent of sales to be part of the cruise shopping programs. The shopping programs are run by media companies, who then pay the cruise lines to have their employees — known as “port lecturers” — on board the ship. These port lecturers are supposed to work like shopping ambassadors, guiding tourists to trusted retailers. But even though Mehan was part of their program, customers were still steered to chains with stronger ties to the industry. So he stopped paying. Then Mehan started hearing troubling things from passengers.
“‘We were told to only go to certain stores because the other stores are people who sometimes don’t sell the real stuff and we are not responsible for it,’ and stuff like that,” says Mehan. “So that’s like a scare factor.
These kinds of complaints got so bad that the State of Alaska started investigating the companies who hire the port lecturers and give the cruise lines a cut of their earnings to have them on board.
Ed Sniffen handles consumer protection for the state, and he says it wasn’t just local businesses who were upset. Passengers were also saying they’d been ripped off.
“‘Hey, I bought this diamond at this shop, and they told me that it was a two-karat something, and I paid $20,000 for it. When I got it back home and had it appraised, it was really only worth $5,000.’ You know, some of those kinds of things,” says Sniffen.
Port lecturers operate on cruises across the world, but Alaska is the first place to crack down on their employers.
In February, the state agreed to a $200,000 settlement with Onboard Media, Royal Media Partners, and the PPI Group — the three Florida-based companies that put port lecturers on Alaska cruise voyages. The companies didn’t have to admit any wrongdoing, but they did have to start requiring port lecturers to disclose that they didn’t work for the cruise lines and that what they were doing was a type of advertising. They were also prohibited from disparaging stores that didn’t participate in their programs and from making misleading statements about sale prices and return policies.
None of the major cruise lines that operate in Alaska — Carnival, Princess, Holland America, and Norwegian — responded to emails asking about their relationship with port lecturers. Royal Media Partners and the PPI Group also ignored interview requests. Only Onboard Media answered questions about the settlement terms.
“[The settlement] simply formalized policies that Onboard Media has always followed,” wrote Noelle Sipos, a spokesperson for Onboard Media, in an e-mail. She added that the company is complying with all of Alaska regulations, but that they’re not applying the state’s rules to other places.
“The program in each region is tailored to support the requirements of the local authorities,” wrote Sipos.
So, are these regulations doing anything? Right now, the attorney general’s office is reviewing about 70 recordings of port lecturers in action, and it looks like filming them is helping. Sniffen says while things aren’t suddenly perfect, most of the feedback on the ground has been good.
“What we’re hearing is that generally things are better. That things have gotten a little cleaner,” says Sniffen. “Passengers aren’t saying the things that they used to say.”
Before Cindy Dollar gets off her cruise ship, she’s given a shopping map, a bunch of coupons, and a tote bag for her haul. She’s vacationing from Texas, and she says there’s serious pressure to spend.
“Yeah, it’s constant,” says Dollar. “I mean if you let yourself, you can be barraged with the whole shopping experience on the ship.”
From what she’s seen, it looks like the port lecturers are following the state’s new rules. They’re putting disclaimers on promotional materials, and reading from scripts that describe their presentations as marketing. They’re still pushy, but at least you know where they’re coming from.
And so far, their pitch doesn’t seem to be working on her. Dollar doesn’t plan on buying from the stores that are being hyped up, and she definitely isn’t thinking about making any huge purchases.
“I plan to bring back a few souvenirs for family and my petsitter,” Dollars laughs.
She thinks a local gift shop will do the trick.
The Celebrity cruise ship Millennium returned to Ketchikan Sunday night after mechanical problems. Police responded to the ship late Tuesday night following reports of unruly passengers.
Ketchikan police responded Tuesday night to several emergency calls from passengers on board the stranded Celebrity ship Millennium. Apparently, the callers thought there was going to be a riot.
Here’s police chief Alan Bengaard: “We, the police department, received three 911 calls from passengers on the MV Millennium who stated that people were getting unruly on board the ship, and they believed a riot was about to begin. Officers responded to the ship, met with ship security and advised them of the 911 calls. Ship security and officers contacted approximately 500 guests on the third floor of the vessel, and subsequently peace was restored and officers left.”
Bengaard says those 500 people were upset about Celebrity Cruise’s plans for where they would go when flown out of Ketchikan.
“The officers … were given the information that some of the passengers were unhappy with the miscommunication between them and the cruise line, and ultimately where their final destination was going to be,” he said. “Initially, evidentially, they were told they were going to be flown to Anchorage, and plans had changed and some were upset with that.”
Bengaard says he believes the passengers will instead be flown to Vancouver.
Cynthia Martinez, director of corporate communications for Celebrity, responded via email to a request for comment. She says she talked with ship security officers, who claim that local police came to the pier about midnight Tuesday in response to 911 calls, but that police did not board the ship. Martinez says that ship security considers the mood on board as “calm.”
She did not offer further comment.
The 965-foot Millennium, with a passenger capacity of about 2,000, has been stuck in Ketchikan since Sunday evening, when it was forced to return to port due to a faulty propeller.
Passengers aboard the Millennium are leaving Ketchikan via chartered flights arranged by Celebrity. They also received full refunds and vouchers toward a future cruise.
A 31-year-old man suspected of shooting at an Anchorage police officer has been arrested.
James John Nick was arrested on a warrant this morning. He faces charges of attempted murder and weapons possession by a felon in connection with the shooting yesterday. The officer in that case was not hit.
Police say officers were checking a neighborhood when an officer saw a man matching the suspect’s description getting out of a Ford Explorer.
A license-plate check showed the vehicle was stolen.
When Nick returned to the Explorer, police blocked the vehicle. Police say Nick refused to get out and tried to ram police vehicles, then briefly fled until a police dog helped catch him.
The military has signed off on an expansion plan for Alaska training operations and areas. The Alaskan Command, representing the Army and Air Force, published its formal record of decision Tuesday on changes to the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, or “J-PARC”.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks is taking a new approach to helping students struggling with depression and other mental health problems that can lead to suicide. U.A.F. Associate Director of Counseling Tony Rousmaniere says a $5,000 grant from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will pay for an on line outreach program.
A resolution to mitigate conflict between dog owners and trappers could pass easily during tonight’s Regular Borough Assembly meeting. The item is on the consent agenda and unless an assembly member disagrees, two new areas will be established for dog training within the borough. It’s a resolution that took two years’ worth of discussion between the Alaska Trapper’s Association and the Borough Trails Advisory Commission.
The resolution designates the Isberg Recreation area in northwest Fairbanks as well as an area directly south of Salcha Elementary School as places where people can free run their dogs. Resolution sponsor and Fairbanks North Star Borough Assemblyman Karl Kassel says the Borough is not creating two new dogs parks, however. Instead, he says the areas will be set up specifically for canine training. “Things like hunting dogs and search and rescue dogs,” he explains, “that need to free run to perform their duties and obviously need to be trained properly to perform their duties. To do that in an area safely, you wanna be confidents there aren’t a lot of traps where the dogs are running loose.” Kassel serves as a liason between the Assembly and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission. He says the resolution will not put an end to trapping within the Borough. “Trapping and the regulation of trapping is a Fish and Game regulation,” he says, “It’s not a borough function. We’re not trying to regulate trapping. The intention here is to not have any sport of significant or adverse effect on any sort of activity that’s already going on, and to use this as a tool to educate the public a little bit more.”
The resolution doesn’t make mention of sled dogs, but Kassel says that’s because the designated training areas aren’t large enough for those activities like mushing and skijoring. “Typically, a dog team would train longer miles and they may pass through these areas,” Kassel says, “The hundred mile loop trail goes through the Iceberg Recreation Area, so somebody may go through the area while they are training dogs, but they would be outside of these areas for more time than they would be within these areas. We still share some concerns obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably going to be people who just go and let dogs run loose.”
The resolution also doesn’t mention other popular trail systems in the borough, where both recreation and trapping take place. Melissa Head is a long time Borough resident. She lost her dog to a trap near the Goldstream Valley last winter. She supports the resolution, but she says it doesn’t go far enough.
“It represents a lot of work that has been done between the ATA and the Borough’s Trails Advisory Commission,” says Head, “but it’s not just enough to say that certain areas are off limits. Dog owners can encounter traps almost anywhere in the borough, often in trails, on the edge of trails, where even leashed dogs can be harmed.”
Pete Buist is a lifelong trapper and a former [president of the Alaska Trapper’s Association. He says most conflicts between dog owners and trappers are not the fault of trappers. “It will be an ongoing problem until dog owners start obeying the law,” says Buist. Borough code does prohibit running dogs off leash, but there is a section in the code that allows for off-leash training. Buist says he understands the resolution is the best option for compromise between all concerned parties. “We are willing to give up some ground where it would otherwise be legal for trapping, because we are trappers who are your friends and neighbors and the Alaska Trapper’s Association is the organized version of that,” Buist says. “We still share some concern obviously that while training off leash is allowed, there are probably gonna people there who just let their dogs run loose.”
ATA members have agreed to voluntarily curtail trapping in the designated dog training areas. Karl Kassel says enforcement will fall under the responsibility of the Borough Administration.
Peter Nestler has been hooked on jumping rope since second grade, when he saw an exhibition at Glacier Valley Elementary School.
In third grade, he joined the Juneau Jumpers. By the time he finished high school, he had helped his team win seven world championships.
Now 33 and living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nestler has come full circle. He’ll perform his world class rope and unicycle skills for a new generation at Glacier Valley on Friday.
“It’s where I learned to jump rope,” he said. “I was on the team there, pretty much my entire learning curve was at Glacier Valley. So it’s kind of neat, and I was thinking about where to do these records. And I was like, you know, it would be kind of cool to have one where I actually started.”
During the show, the Ketchikan native hopes to set a new world record for most bum skips in 30 seconds.
That’s right, bum skips. Nestler explains:
“Basically, you’re seated with your feet out in front of you, and you’re jumping while you’re sitting down,” he said. “For this particular record … you hold both handles in one hand, so the rope’s basically cut in half. And then you spin the rope so it’s making kind of like a helicopter motion, but it’s going, it’s staying on the ground and you’re jumping over that with every jump.”
The current record is 82, according to the Guinness World Records press office.
He already holds the record for most rope skips on a unicycle in one minute: 237. Nestler hopes to set a total of 11 new world records this year, three of them in Juneau in the next six days.
And yes, this is his day job. He’s been professionally unicycling, jumping rope, and spreading a kid friendly motivational message around the world since 2002.
“A lot of people look at people like me that are professional or really good at something and they just think, ‘Oh, you know, he’s just born that way,’” Nestler said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, no.’ I’m definitely one of the people, I don’t pick stuff up quickly, but I work very, very hard, and the reason I’m good at stuff is I practice more than anybody else at something.”
Separately, he performs for churches and youth ministries with a faith-based message. He said his faith and relationship with God has helped him get where he is today.
He’ll perform next Wednesday at the Hub, an after school program at the Juneau Christian Center. There, he hopes to beat the record for the most rope skips while juggling a soccer ball in one minute. That’s 31.
He’ll also try to for the speed record for running a mile on one foot while jumping rope. The time to beat is 34 minutes, 1 second.
Constant conditioning and performing hundreds of shows a year inevitably leads to aches and pains. Add the grueling travel schedule, and he’s questioned his career.
“You definitely have those moments where you’re thinking, ‘Well, is this really the kind of job you want?’”
So far, the answer has been yes.
“But at the end, when you get out and you’re performing, you just kind of see the look on these kids’ faces,” he said. “They see me out there jumpin’, and you kind of see sometimes, those light bulbs kick off behind their heads. It’s like, you know, this really is what I like to do and I love the opportunity to do it,” he said.
Wrangell will soon be featured in National Geographic Traveler Magazine. KSTK’s Shady Grove Oliver caught up with the photographer working on the article yesterday and sent back this report.
Austin-based filmmaker Ben Hamilton has a knack for capturing the appeal of visiting — and living in — Southeast Alaska. The films he’s made for the Sitka Convention and Visitor’s Bureau are stunning to be sure, but often contain small, subtle portraits — of us. He made this short film for the Sitka Conservation Society. His next project: A feature-length documentary commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act.
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Ben Seretan is an electric guitarist. He’s interested in what he calls “Long Music” that exists outside the limitations imposed by physical media like CD’s and records. He plays now up to 3 hours at a time in the “smokestack building” on the Sheldon Jackson Campus. He’s one of this year’s Sitka Fellows, who will be on campus through the end of the month. An “Open Studio” is scheduled for Friday evening Aug 30 for the public to view the Fellows’ work.
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Court ruling raises new questions about laws governing city land sales in Sitka. Asphalt plant fire will not delay Sitka’s street repair projects. Ketchikan police called in to quell possible riot aboard cruise ship Millenium. Glacier Bay Lodge will remain open for at least two years. State, federal officials update Petersburg assembly on transportation and power issues.
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