Kenai tourism industry sees strength in numbers

Posted: Friday, March 07, 2003

KENAI (AP) The director of the Kenai Peninsula Economic Development District said the visitor industry needs a boost and he thinks he knows how to do it.

Jim Carter is recommending that the visitor industry shape itself along the models of the oil and gas companies and their associations, or perhaps commercial fishing that understands the principles of working together.

His organization is sponsoring a visitor industry forum Friday at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. More than 40 people are expected to attend.

There is strength in numbers,'' Carter said. My vision is that we're going to work closer and be more effective. If you look at the trend of the visitor industry, it's going through a transition. We can't keep the status quo and remain competitive.''

The idea for the meeting was initiated during the borough's economic forum in December, he said.

Carter invited visitor industry stakeholders tourism business owners from all over the peninsula to first meet among themselves in the major community centers in the borough: Homer, Seward and the Kenai-Soldotna areas.

After collecting ideas addressing issues of tourism infrastructure, research, marketing and funding, the groups would come together into one central meeting to discuss findings and set out action plans.

Ricky Gease, director of the Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau, said a comprehensive visitor survey would help give tourism businesses a better picture of where and how improvements could be made.

It gets us a baseline assessment of what are the strategic steps to grow the industry over the next 10 years,'' Gease said. Currently, we only can count people that go to visitor centers or camping parks.''

The idea of initiating a borough-wide bed tax a tax levied on hotel or bed and breakfast room night stays is one both Gease and Carter support, and one they said they intend to explore.

Audrey Walaszek, newly named Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council executive director and Kenai Chamber of Commerce director, said such a tax makes sense.

It's a method we should research so we can be more self sufficient,'' she said. When I went to Hawaii, there was a bed tax.''

The Matanuska-Susitna Convention and Visitors Bureau benefits from a 5 percent bed tax established by borough voters in 1988. Executive director Bonnie Quill said the bureau receives 90 percent of the bed tax revenue up to $300,000 and gets up to 50 percent of any excess monies.

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