Tourism numbers show mixed effect

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2003

When terrorist attacks two years ago crashed airliners into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the World Trade Center in New York City and a field in Pennsylvania, the U.S. travel industry was ground to a halt.

And related business suffered across the nation.

The recovery has been slower for some aspects of Alaska's travel industry than others, but businesses are coping.

"This has been my worst year in 12 years," said Doni Beeson, owner of Beeson's Bed and Breakfast in Homer.

"It's going to be really rough this winter. But I'll survive."

She said she saw a slight decline in guests last year, but faced a significant shortfall this summer.

"I don't know why, though," said Beeson, who was reluctant to lay the blame on fallout from the terrorist attacks. "I can't explain it."

June Posey owns Posey's Kenai River Hideaway Bed and Breakfast in Soldotna, and she echoed Beeson's observation.

"It's been slower this year than the past years," Posey said. "And other (bed and breakfast owners) that I've talked to said that it has been slow."

The Kenai Visitors and Con-vention Bureau and the Soldotna Visitors Center reflected differing visitor numbers over the previous two years.

"In 2002 we had had huge increases," said KVCB spokesperson Jay Barrett. "Fifteen percent over 2001."

He said this year, from May 1 through Aug. 31, there was a 3 percent growth over 2002.

However, he stopped short of speculating that Alaska vacations have replaced foreign trips in the two years since the Sept. 11 tragedies.

"It's probably helped, although I haven't had anyone say, 'I came to Kenai instead of going to Paris.'"

Soldotna Visitor Center Co-ordinator Shanon Hamrick said 2003 visitor numbers are down 6 percent from the previous year. She did not have figures for 2001.

"It's been a consistent 6 percent downturn from last year," she said. "But we've still had just under 40,000 visitors for this year."

According to Kenai Municipal Airport records, the number of commercial passenger flights into Kenai shrunk, with emplanement the count of passengers getting onto planes numbers dropping 12,897 passengers from 2001 to 2002.

"There was a sharp decrease shortly after 9-11," said Kenai airport manager Rebecca Cronkhite. "The industry began a recovery significantly through the winter, but then the cost of insurance and fuel contributed to an overall decrease in emplanements."

Paul Landis, Era Aviation's senior vice president, concurred with Cronkhite, explaining that terrorist threats were directly responsible for slowing down travel and driving up travel costs.

"Insurance costs skyrocketed," he said. "Particularly the third-party liability insurance, or 'war risk' insurance.

"For most carriers the cost at least doubled. With some of the larger air carriers it was much higher."

He said paying for heightened security has increased costs, although it may not be as visible to Kenai passengers.

"It takes additional time at all aspects to ensure safety," Landis said. "It's touched on nearly all areas of operation. We have a full-time person working on security compliance, now. We didn't have that before."

As a result, the company hiked airfares 25 percent across the board last spring, something that may have contributed to fewer ticket sales, he said.

"It's the cost of doing business as an air carrier, particularly in ticket costs, that is passed along to consumers," Landis said.

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