Despite the gloomy economic news bombarding us at every turn, those in Alaska's tourism industry aren't writing off the upcoming visitor season.
Bookings may be down, but the experts say tourists will head this way, they're just waiting to get the best deal possible on their trips. The waiting is hard on businesses that depend on the visitors, but while they wait, those businesses would do well to quit wringing their hands and make the most of the silver lining in the economic cloud hanging over the nation.
A little action might be the perfect anecdote to watching those nose-diving stock prices. A few examples:
* If would-be visitors are waiting for good deals, let's offer those good deals now -- premium Alaska experiences at discounted prices, prices so good, it's hard to pass them by. In these changing times, businesses can't expect to do business the way they've always done business and thrive.
* Hard times are the perfect time for businesses to polish their customer service skills. While it may be the vast wilderness, the world-class fishing, the glaciers and the wildlife that beckon visitors, chances are it's the people they meet on their trip, the friendships they forge and the way they are treated that will be what most visitors talk about when they return home.
Relationships -- OK, and a really big fish -- are the stuff of memories that last a lifetime. All Alaskans can help offer visitors a quality experience by sharing the love of their state and hometown with those who aren't as fortunate to live here. Instead of complaining about the traffic and the longer lines at the grocery stores, let's roll out the red carpet for visitors -- maybe even give them our spot in the checkout lane.
Alaskans, in general, and Kenai Peninsula residents, in particular, live in one of the most beautiful places on the planet, we really can afford to be generous in spirit and make sure visitors have the trip of a lifetime.
* Hard times might be just the catalyst businesses need to get creative. Holland America, for example, is offering a "take your time" cruise with one-way fares between spots in Alaska and Seattle. Local businesses also can offer different services than they have before. What have previous customers asked for that wasn't available? What's something you've experienced when you've traveled that could be tweaked to make sense in an Alaska setting? What would turn a really great experience into something far better than any visitor could have ever hoped for or imagined?
* Hard times also call for cooperation among all businesses. While not every business on the Kenai Peninsula can be classified as a "tourism" business, certainly the way the visitor season goes affects all of us. When the tourism industry does well, we all benefit. Likewise, when tourism is down, the entire community suffers. Businesses need to look at ways they can help one another, and individuals need to see the key role they play. Every Alaskan is an ambassador for Alaska, which, no matter what the economy is doing, is still one of the premier visitor destinations in the world. Let's talk up our state and the opportunities available here every chance we have.
While we're at it, we might want to take advantage of some of those in-state specials ourselves. This year might be one of the best years ever for Alaskans to get to see Alaska.
One thing is for sure. It's way too early to write the visitor season off.
In times like these, a positive attitude, a new approach and a little risk-taking will go a long way.
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