Peninsula tourism outlook brightens

Posted: Friday, May 24, 2002

Despite jitters in the national visitor industry, the Kenai Peninsula tourism outlook is bright, according to Dru Garson, the acting director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.

Garson spoke Tuesday at the Greater Soldotna Chamber of Commerce meeting.

"Things are looking pretty well," he said.

In response to a question from the luncheon audience, he said he has discussed bookings with bed-and-breakfast owners and other visitor-related businesses throughout the area. Despite a weak economy and fears following Sept. 11, bookings are recovering strength.

Garson, like others, speculated that some travelers are opting for Alaska as a safer place to travel than foreign countries.

"I think a lot of people changed their plans," he said.

Garson outlined his own plans since taking the helm of the organization in February.

He introduced himself as a VISTA volunteer.

"What that means is that I have devoted a year of my life toward community service and have volunteered my professional services and skills toward marketing and promoting tourism throughout the peninsula," he said. "It hasn't been easy these past few months, and there's never a dull moment."

He outlined the KPTMC's goals for the coming year:

n Increasing its Internet presence;

n Representing the Kenai Peninsula at more trade shows, conventions and events;

n Concentrating on shoulder and off-season marketing; and

n Increasing membership by making the rates more affordable.

The KPTMC is a unique organization that strives to promote the peninsula as a destination. Doing so involves pulling together the diverse and sometimes rival peninsula communities while competing against other popular destinations in Alaska and elsewhere, he said.

The council's main products are its annual visitors' guide, "Alaska's Kenai Peninsula Discovery;" its Web site at www.kenaipeninsula .org; maps; advertisements; promotions at the Great Alaska Sportsman Show; the Alaska Host Training program; and a regional tourism conference.

The new host training, an eight-hour seminar for customer-service workers, began last week in Soldotna and will be offered next in Seward.

As examples of advertising, he showed video clips of two television ads shown in Anchorage and the Matanuska Valley last winter promoting the peninsula as a winter recreation haven for Alaskans.

Projects in the works include an online newsletter to send timely information to travelers and members. The organization also is looking into the possibility of updating a 1991 study on visitors that provided valuable information on who visits, and why.

"Trend analysis could provide some great insight into the changing demographics of visitors, contributions to the local economy and the effect of our marketing," he said.

Garson has been looking at travel trends so the KPTMC can adjust to changing times. He cited studies done after the September disaster that showed travelers were making more plans online and shopping for bargains.

He urged businesses here to advertise Web specials on the KPTMC's expanded Web site.

But he reminded the audience that, despite the big role of technology, the personal touches still make or break a travel destination's reputation and long-term success.

"You may not realize it, but even if you work at a gas station, or at a grocery store or a department store, you still interact with visitors, and your actions reflect not only on yourself and your business, but also form impressions on Alaskans in general.

"So, try not to view tourists as an inconvenience or a hassle. But see them first as individuals that deserve respect, and then as important contributors to the local economy."

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