It's not all bad news for tourism

Posted: Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Despite a sluggish tourism season for the state overall in 2002, the season wasn't as bad as expected for some area businesses.

According to Caryl McConkie, tourism development specialist with the Alaska Division of Community and Business Development, 2002 was a continuation of the downward spiral the state's tourism industry has been experiencing for the last few years.

"It's been happening since before Sept. 11, so (Sept. 11) is kind of like the knife in the heart," she said. "In the mid '90s, we were showing healthy increases in visitor industries. In the last two years, the growth rate has declined down to less than half a percent."

Yet some tour-ism-related businesses have experienced this downturn more keenly than others. The Interior of the state has been particularly affected by it, McConkie said, whereas areas like Southeast that tap into the cruise ship market haven't done so poorly.

In particular, businesses that offer affordable goods and services have had a better chance of not being affected by the hit to the tourism industry. Many of the tourists who have gotten back to traveling after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States don't have as much money to spend as they once would have.

"We had one gentleman who said he had a banner year last year because he had a very affordable product," McConkie said. "Those kinds of businesses might have done very well. Then there were other businesses that depend on the higher spending customer, and they might not have done very well."

'We're still expecting a rough year. ... We still have not recovered from the terrorist attacks of 2001.'

-- Caryl McConkie, state tourism development specialist with the state

This could help explain why some sectors of the Kenai Peninsula tourism industry didn't fare as badly as planned in 2002.

Area businesses, especially those that cater to sport anglers, reported a slow May and June tourism season. However, that likely had more to do with the poor early run of Kenai River king salmon than anything else. By July 1, the fishing picked up, as did business for local retail stores and fishing-related shops.

The peninsula tourism industry may see another better-than-expected season in 2003, but if it does, it will be bucking the trend being experienced by most of the rest of the state.

"We're still expecting a rough year," McConkie said. "I know this is something going on nationwide. We still have not recovered from the terrorist attacks of 2001. In different sectors, it's going to take longer.

"I could say right now the industry in certain sectors is in decline (and will continue to be) unless we have something significant that will turn this around."

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