Before two years is out, the phrase "Alaska's playground" will be synonymous with the Kenai Peninsula at least that's what the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council (KPTMC) hopes for. In order to get tourists off the cruise ship, KPTMC unveiled a new brand designed to market the Kenai Peninsula as a way for people to get to know the real Alaska.
"While you're on the Kenai, you're getting dirty, you're immersing yourself in it," KPTMC Executive Director Shannon Hamrick said. "You're not viewing Alaska from the deck of a boat."
With the Alaska cruise industry spending more than $80 million to market the state, figuring out what makes the Kenai Peninsula different and how to sell it to tourists wasn't easy. This is why KPTMC enlisted the help of North Star Destination Strategies, a Nashville-based marketing firm that has helped more than 75 communities create a brand based on how they define themselves.
"When it comes to developing a brand for a destination, you have to understand who you are," company President Steve Chandler said. "If you don't know who you are it's kind of a crap shoot."
What, or who, is Alaska? As Chandler put it to the KPTMC Board of Directors: "The cost of admission to compete in Alaskan tourism is to have mountains and glaciers and wildlife. It's what (tourists) expect to find when they get here."
Tourists can get mountains, glaciers and wildlife here on the Kenai Peninsula, but they can also get it in Juneau, the Matanuska-Susitna area or Anchorage. It also doesn't help that when people book a trip to Alaska, the first thing their travel agent pushes is a cruise.
"A travel agent makes the same commission, if not more, from a cruise line," Chandler said. "If you insist that you want to go to the peninsula, you're going to make me work."
Booking a cruise is easier than constructing a trip package to the Kenai Peninsula for many reasons, Chandler said. Because of a shortage of rental agencies, figuring out what to do with a car between Anchorage and Homer is a huge dilemma for some people. And many people are traveling more than 3,000 miles to get to Alaska.
"The state for a few years has been marketing (Alaska) as a 'before you die' destination," Chandler said, emphasizing an Alaska trip's enormous expense. "That's one of the things you check off on your life's to-do list."
Coming up with an eye-catching image for the Kenai Peninsula that stands out from the standard glacier, wildlife and mountain package the rest of the state promotes required insight into what outsiders think as well as figuring out why people live here and what makes Alaskans return every year.
"The main reason people come to Alaska is for wildlife and scenery," Hamrick said. "The Kenai Peninsula has the added benefit of having absolutely world-class fishing." Chandler and KPTMC looked at addresses from more than 60,000 fishing licenses visitors purchased on the Kenai Peninsula last year. Chandler and another team from North Star Destination Strategies spent two weeks on the peninsula, chatting with locals and tourists alike. North Star also came up with a tapestry report detailing how much money a tourist spends on trips, average household incomes and average ages, Hamrick said.
"The way that our fishing customers differed from lodging (is) they crossed all economic and social stratus," Hamrick said, adding that anglers lived in a variety of locations across the United States. "(Our lodgers) were more of a standardize from our major hubs that feed tourism in Alaska."
She also said lodges attract an older crowd.
Michelle Glaves, executive director for the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce and member of the KPTC Board of Directors, said the chamber and the city of Soldotna contributed $10,000 in order to have access to what she says is a four-inch thick binder with North Star's accumulated research.
"This gives us a benchmark of where we've been and where we can go," she said.
Soldotna partnered with Homer, Seward and Kenai to figure out how to best identify the Kenai Peninsula, and one thing she likes is the brand clearly states that Alaskans come here to play.
"There's a certain amount of comfort for a tourist to go where they think Alaskans go to play," Glaves said. "It's not just the place where they're going to send tourists, but it's actually a proven place where Alaskans go to play."
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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