The Kenai Peninsula began to see a reversal of a decline in travelers this summer, Shanon Hamrick, Executive Director for the Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council, said. A good sign for Alaska Tourism, which has been declining since 2007. Summer 2010 marked the first time overall visitation fell below 1.6 million since 2004, according to the Alaska Office of Tourism Development.
“Kenai Peninsula is a huge independent traveler destination, and the cruise industry overall was up about four to five percent in Alaska,” she said. “Analytically from our members we’re hearing really great things.”
Out-of-state travelers to the Peninsula are both independent travelers and cruise ship passengers. Independent travelers typically begin their trips in Anchorage. Cruise passengers embark or disembark at the Port of Seward.
The council kept its marketing efforts strong though the recession, and saw an increase in the area of visitor requests for information, Hamrick said.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association, a statewide organization promoting travel to Alaska, reported an increase of 13.9 percent in requests for travel information in its FY2011 report.
Targeting the Anchorage market, where 42 percent of the state’s population lives, is just as important to the success of the main tourist season.
The Kenai River, known for its world-record king salmon, hosts fishing of all types — independent and guided sport fishing, and commercial. This brings thousands of in-state travelers to the Peninsula every year.
“We continue to try and hit the Anchorage market,” Hamrick said. “As we say, we are Alaska’s playground, and our Anchorage residents are basically low hanging fruit for visitation to the Kenai Peninsula.”
Jimmie Jack, of the fishing company with the same name, had a “great summer as far as business went.” Overall, business at his Kenai fishing lodge was almost exactly the same as last summer.
“It was about the same as last year,” he said. “And it seems this year across the board everybody was happy with the amount of tourists that we had.”
From last year’s winter through this year’s summer charters, lodges and travelers held positive outlooks for the economy, but that may no longer be the case, he said.
“It’s pretty obvious when people are feeling positive about the economy, because we get bookings,” Jack said. “In the fall of 2008 when we had that big drop in the markets the phone wasn’t ringing, so it will be interesting to see how it goes this fall.”
Despite the negative market outlook, Jack is already 20 percent booked for next summer, and he is remaining positive in the face of a potential market crash.
Another factor boosting tourism in the state is the increasing investment toward new commercials on national television.
ATIA had its largest cable media placement in the past decade, using a budget of nearly $6 million. Intent to visit Alaska after reviewing the ads increased by nearly 10 percent over the past year, according to its FY2011 report.
The association also launched new German and Japanese websites.
The Kenai Peninsula Tourism and Marketing Council, which has collaborated with ATIA in the past, is working on launching its own new website. The website will be completed in about a month.
In conjunction with the website a program is being developed that will send a monthly newsletter to past inquirers. The state has a tourist return rate of 30 percent.
“We will use that database to bring people back,” Hamrick said.
A positive trend is expected to continue into next year.
“We stated when the bottom fell out of the industry a couple years ago that it would probably be 2012, 2013 before we reached to pre-recession levels, and I think we’re still on track for that,” she said.