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More Kenai Peninsula visitors looking for natural experience

Posted: Thursday, February 18, 2010

While there are no shortages of folks who come to Alaska for fishing in summer, there are also a growing number of visitors who see this state as a prime year-round destination for a more personal connection with nature.

So called "ecotourists" enjoy responsible travel to natural areas, strive to leave little or no impact during their visit, and hold as a hallmark preserving the environment so that future visitors can enjoy the same beauty and quality experience.

"Eco-tourism activities on the Kenai are boundless," said Shanon Hamrick, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. Backcountry and hiking excursions, history and culture trips, flight seeing and sightseeing activities, glacier trekking, birding, kayaking and rafting, bicycle tours and rentals, day cruises and bear viewing are all popular and easily accessible local eco-tourism ideas, according to Hamrick.

While what eco-tourists are doing is fairly simple to determine, the measurable impact from this on the economy -- including where eco-tourists spend their money -- is more difficult to figure out, according to Hamrick.

"We have a hard time defining exactly how much tourism in general contributes to the Kenai Peninsula economy, because it is so broad and hard to nail down," she said.

However, Hamrick said, there is a general description of eco-tourists. They tend to demand quality experiences, come from the middle classes of society, have a reasonable disposable income and are prepared to travel, tend to travel on discounts, and use clean, but private two to three star accommodations.

"While eco-tourists are prepared to spend a lot of money on an environmental experience, they are reluctant to spend too much on buying a bed for the night," Hamrick said. "While they don't want five star accommodations, they are prepared to pay to enjoy a five star environmental experience."

As eco-tourism grows, local business must change to meet these demands, or face being left behind by those who do adapt.

"Every tourism-based marketing organization in Alaska is well aware of the importance of eco-tourism to Alaskan tourism marketing, and incorporates the message into marketing materials to a degree," Hamrick said.

Locally, Alaska Wildland Adventures is very involved in eco-tourism. They operate properties in Cooper Landing, on Skilak Lake and in Kenai Fjords National Park, according to Hamrick.

"There is an organization that is 100-percent dedicated to eco-tourism," Hamrick said. "The Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association (AWRTA) is a member-led association that represents more than 300 nature-based tourism businesses, individuals, and organizations in Alaska."

Anchorage-based AWRTA advocates for the sustainability of Alaska's natural and cultural resources, responsible tourism and tourism planning for communities. Member businesses and partners strive to work with communities to protect and enhance the quality of life, to provide good jobs and business opportunities, and to create strong incentives for protecting Alaska's wildlife, wilderness and special places.

To learn more about Alaska Wildland Adventures, visit their Website at http://www.alaskawildland.com/contact.htm. To learn more about the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, visit http://www.awrta.org/.

For more information on other local eco-tourism opportunities, contact the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council at 262-5229 or visit their site at http://www.kenaipeninsula.org/contact.htm.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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