Though it's still early in the year, experts are predicting a strong tourism season on the Kenai Peninsula. And even though there have been a trickle of mo-tor homes al-ready, the summer crush is ex-pected to be-gin over this long Memo-rial Day weekend.
"This is the first big weekend, where a lot of businesses open up and fishing guides put their boats in the water," said Faron Owen, director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.
He said with the Anchor River, Deep Creek and Ninilchik River all opening up to salmon fishing at 12:01 Saturday morning, anglers looking for that first king salmon of the season are sure to be out in force.
Owen also said members of his organization have reported increased bookings for this summer.
"Their bookings are way up. Glacier cruises, fishing, bed and breakfasts, all way up," he said. "I think it's going to be a pretty good season."
He said a lot of the bookings have come later than usual this year.
"I think people were waiting to see if airfares and gas prices would come down," he said.
Owen said KPTMC's Web site has been generating 60,000 visits every 45 days, and that requests for information about the peninsula is running twice what it was last year.
Requests for information from the Kenai Visitors and Convention Bureau also are way up. Director Kathy Tarr said there have been more requests already this spring than all of last year.
"The number of inquiries as of April 30 was 3,791, and all of 1999 it was 3,783," she said. "And it has not slowed down. People may just have the millennium travel bug."
She said the bureau's Web site is generating a lot of the inquiries.
"And that should translate into more rubber tire and foot print visits," she said.
As of Wednesday, Tarr said there have been 5,580 visits to the visitors center in Kenai during the month of May, and by the end of the month, visits should break the record of 6,383 set in 1996. She attributed the high numbers of visits to students flying missions at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska and the Alaska 2000 wildlife art show.
Boating, fire safety advisories issued for weekend.
"We just had our second visit this spring from Moose Pass students. Their first visit was to the Challenger Center, and their second visit was to come to our art show," she said. "I want to emphasize that most of those students are from outside the Kenai-Soldotna area."
The Soldotna Visitors Center also has seen a bump in student visits, according to Kim Mariman, visitor services manager for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
"In the past two days we've had 150 kids from kindergarten to sixth grade come through here on field trips," she said.
Mariman also credited the high number of student visits to the Challenger Center.
Overall, Mariman said, inquiries about Soldotna are up 66 percent from last year and that her office has sent out 4,000 recreation guides since February. She also reported an increase in bookings with many of the chamber's members.
"I've been speaking to a lot of our fishing guides and accommodation people and they're saying its shaping up to be one of their best seasons," she said. "It's unbelievable."
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