A cruise ship departs Seward at the conclusion of a trip up the Inside Passage. Tourists arrive on the peninsula by water, air and road. The money they carry helps support a number of businesses here.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Tourism, an important sector of the Kenai Peninsula Borough economy, is on the rebound in Alaska since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, slowed things down.
According to the Alaska Travel Industry Association, the number of people traveling to the state by way of cruise ships began rising shortly after the initial slump caused by events of Sept. 11, but during the summer of 2004, the number of visitors arriving by highway and air rose, as well.
Between May and September, the number of visitors coming to Alaska by cruise ships was up 100,000 over 2003 and those coming by way of the airports or by the highway rose by 40,000, according to Ron Peck, president and chief executive officer of ATIA.
The total number of arrivals went from 1.31 million in the summer of 2003 to 1.45 million in 2004, Peck said.
The totals encompass all visitors, whether from other parts of the United States or from other countries.
Peck attributed part of the increase, particularly among international travelers, to the weakening U.S. dollar.
As the value of the dollar goes down, foreign currency picks up more purchasing power, making travel to this country more economically attractive.
Peck said, "From an international standpoint, people come to Alaska for .... the mountains, the glaciers, the wildlife."
According to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Community and Economic Development Division, that list of attractions is similar to what brings people to the peninsula. The borough also offers ocean beaches, rivers, lakes and forests and opportunities for halibut and salmon fishing, boating, hunting, skiing and snowmachining.
The number of visitors coming to the Kenai Peninsula dropped significantly after 2001, going from 122,311 that year to 94,097 in 2002. In 2003, the number remained flat at 93,412.
One marked exception was the number of people coming to Seward. In 2001, that number was 26,374.
It dropped to 12,338 in 2002 but rebounded 16 percent to 14,343 in 2003.
In terms of visitor-related taxable sales, tourism brought $71,946,939 to the Kenai Peninsula Borough in 2003, according to the economic development division.
As a percent of the total number of business licenses issued by the borough, tourism represented 23.8 of the licenses.
Of the 7,753 licenses issued in 2003, 938 were issued to accommodations and food service businesses and 907 were to enterprises offering art, entertainment and recreation.
Tourism also contributes to the borough economy by way of visitor industry jobs.
In 2003, of the 17,777 people employed in the borough, 691 worked in accommodations and 1,364 in eating and drinking. Those figures were up from 602 and 1,292, respectively, in 2002.
This winter, ATIA began promoting Alaska to Alaskans with ads encouraging people not to hibernate, but to get out and enjoy the many snow activities the state has to offer like skiing, dog sledding and snowmachining.
In addition to tracking the number of visitors who come to Alaska and promoting tourism throughout the state, the ATIA also tries to predict what's to come.
"We believe we will continue to see an increase in the number of international visitors," Peck said.
"Condor has added one flight from Germany and we believe the Asian market is going to grow, too," he said.
Although ATIA is involved in "a variety of different programs to promote statewide tourism," according to Peck, the association does not specifically target individual regions, said Kathy Dunn, director of marketing for consumer products.
"Local chambers (of commerce) do that. We try to enhance their programs," Dunn said.
"We're cautiously optimistic," said Peck when asked for a forecast of the 2005 tourism season. "Anecdotally, small and large businesses all are saying their bookings are up for 2005."
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