It's impossible to guess how the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks will hurt Alaska's economy, but there's little doubt there will be a ripple effect.
In an effort to be better prepared, Gov. Tony Knowles has asked a group of state business leaders and economists to analyze the potential impacts of the attacks on the state's economy and make recommendations on legislative and administrative actions to minimize the hurt. We applaud the governor's decision.
The task force has a tough job -- answering the questions on everyone's mind: What do recent global events mean to our little corner of the world, specifically what do they mean to our economic security? What will be the effect on tourism? The oil and gas industry? Air cargo and other industries?
What will be the effect of a protracted war on terrorism? And what about this anthrax thing?
Because the unknown is always scarier than the known, having answers to the economic questions will, at the least, give Alaskans a base from which to move forward and make sound decisions. No matter how bad the economic outlook may seem, it's still better than endless speculation based on nothing more than fears and rumors. And, who's to say, maybe the news won't be as bad as what many currently fear.
Even though Americans have been encouraged to return to "normalcy" -- all the while keeping a cautious eye open for the unusual -- it is expected tourism on a national, state and local level will be hard hit. While people are hunkering down closer to home now, there will be a limit to how long they'll be content to eat their canned soup and watch their DVDs. (The attacks haven't been a bane to all sectors of the economy.)
Sooner or later, and let's hope it is sooner, people are going to have to get out of the house. In fact, the Alaska Divison of Parks on the Kenai Peninsula is poised to receive an influx of visitors next summer.
It makes sense. People in other parts of the nation who might have been planning a foreign trip might look a little closer to home. Take a look at any travel poster or brochure and it's obvious Alaska has always promised pristine tranquility to travelers. In these tumultous times, where else would anyone rather be but among self-sufficient Alaskans in the most beautiful place in the world?
While Alaska's remoteness is bound to lure some world-weary citizens away from their homes in distant states, the desire to stay closer to home presents the potential for increasing numbers of Alaskans to explore their home state on their next vacation.
The vast majority of visitors to the Kenai Peninsula -- 80 percent -- already are from Alaska. Still, how many Alaskans do you know in other parts of the state who have never taken the time to visit the peninsula? For that matter, when was the last time you and your family explored other regions of the state -- or even drove to Seward or Homer for a getaway weekend?
Most Alaskans have had the experience of talking to visitors who have seen more of the state in two months, or even two weeks, than the rest of us have seen in 20 years. Somehow they manage to cruise the Inside Passage, tool around Fairbanks, drop on over to Seldovia, exclaim over Exit Glacier and admire the displays in the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center. They take the time to do those things we send visiting relatives off to do, but don't take the time to enjoy ourselves. Have you rafted down the Kenai? Visited Alaska's SeaLife Center? Walked along the beach at Kachemak Bay?
As all Americans rethink their priorities and plans in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and as the governor's task force exaimines the impact of terrorism on the state's economy, it's comforting to note that Alaska's vastness offers enough geographical differences that a person can get a change of pace -- a real vacation -- without exiting the comfort zone of the state.
"Home" for Alaskans is big enough to accomodate many changes of scenery. Alaska offers Alaskans a unique chance to leave home without ever leaving home -- and that's worth considering in these uncertain times. It also may help cushion the expected blow tourism is expected to suffer -- maybe the number of visitors from other places will be down, but perhaps they can be replaced by Alaskans branching out in their exploration of the state.
Over the next few months, Alaskans also may discover they don't need to leave the state to have an adventure. Their vacation of a lifetime might be right on their home turf.
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