Kenai businesses give mixed reports on early bookings

Posted: Sunday, May 27, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Kenai Peninsula businesses are giving mixed reports on early bookings for the summer tourist season.

''It looks like it's running about normal,'' said Bob Strauss, general manager of Riverside House in Soldotna.

Some observers predict gasoline prices as high as $3 per gallon this summer, but Strauss said he expects little affect on his business, which, at season's peak, draws mainly out-of-state visitors.

''Most of our guests arrive by airplane,'' he said. ''We may see a reduction in the number of RVs in our parking lot this summer.''

Tina Lindgren, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said she expects little growth in Alaska tourism this summer, though it is still early to make predictions.

The Travel Industry Association of America predicts a 3 percent increase in visitor business nationwide, she said, but it sees a soft spot in senior travelers, who are especially concerned about the economy and declines in the stock market.

Cruise lines have resorted to discounts, she said, and for them, ''It's definitely a soft market right now.'' Nationwide, she said, vacationers are taking more three-day weekends closer to home and fewer three-week destination trips.

''People have less time to travel. With two-income families, it's harder for them to get away,'' she said.

Perhaps for similar reasons, there has been little change the last few years in the number of visitors reaching Alaska by highway, she said. More people fly, then rent a car or RV. However, the Kenai Peninsula draws large numbers of in-state visitors, she said. They come to fish, and may be less affected than out-of-state travelers by high gasoline prices and the troubled economy.

Mike LeNorman, director of sales and marketing for Era Aviation in Anchorage, said Era's Kenai bookings for the next 90 days are up 2 percent from the same time last year, and by summer's end, the increase may be even greater. Most summer passengers come from Outside to fish, he said.

''The automobile fuel problem affects us in a positive way,'' he said. ''We don't expect to see a lot of people coming to the Kenai Peninsula in their six-mile-per-gallon motor homes this year. We've heard the RV parks are down. We see a lot of people flying to the Kenai Peninsula and renting a car when they get there.''

John Chapple, owner of the Homer Spit Campground, said his RV bookings are as good as ever. Bookings from the Lower 48 are about average, he said. Bookings for Memorial Day weekend, about 80 percent from Alaska residents, are up from last year.

Janet Harvard, owner of Country Boy Campground in Ninilchik, said her bookings are up, too.

''It's strange, because with high fuel prices, we expected reservations to be way down,'' she said.

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