How to entice the independent travelers?

Business owners seek to expand the number of travelers who don't come by cruise ship

Posted: Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Cruise ship passengers flood Juneau's streets by summer, but it isn't helping Rick Kasnick fill beds at his Driftwood Lodge.

Like many hoteliers and tour proprietors, the chairman of the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau isn't sharing equally in a boom that's driven by all-in-one tour packages.

"It used to be that the summer was overbooked, overflowed," Kasnick said. "And now there's empty spots."

Though the number of visitors to Juneau has increased steadily in the last decade, some are longing for more independent travelers - those who stay in hotels or bed and breakfasts, eat in Juneau's restaurants and look for more adventurous tours.

"If a business has an opportunity to diversify a little bit from what they're doing to affect the cruise ship passengers, they're probably doing it," Kasnick said. "But a hotel can't change. It can't cater to cruise ship passengers."

Visitors who don't come by cruise ship spend more time and money in Juneau, a JCVB-commissioned survey found. They also are more likely to have visited Juneau in the past and report a likelihood of visiting again, said Lorene Palmer, executive director of bureau.

"The independent market is really an important one to talk about," Palmer said. "It's an important piece of the tourism industry in Juneau as far as diversifying our economy. There's a lot of people who depend on people coming here and staying in their bed and breakfasts and fishing and going on boat tours."

In 2003, JCVB hired the McDowell Group, a Juneau-based consulting firm, to survey independent travelers. Through surveys and interviews at the airport and ferry terminal, the McDowell Group found that 93,500 people visited Juneau for pleasure last summer without coming by cruise ship. In the same period, 776,991 cruise ship passengers visited the state.

Those who didn't come to Juneau by cruise ship estimated they spent an average of $281 during their stay last year. Cruise ship passengers spend $175 each per visit to Juneau.

Besides spending more money in Juneau, independent travelers fit in with the Juneau residents, said Maria Gladziszewski, special projects officer for the City and Borough of Juneau. She helped create the tourism management plan adopted by the Juneau Assembly in 2002.

Independent travelers "tend to use the community in a similar manner that Juneau residents use the community," she said. "They come in small groups and go on trails and are interested in exploring more of the community."

JCVB markets Juneau to independent travelers through its Web site and through a travel guide published annually. This year, the agency launched the Come Back to Juneau program, which enticed visitors to Juneau last year to sign up for an e-mail newsletter sent this winter.

The agency doesn't have sufficient funds to launch print or television advertisements, Palmer said. Positive word of mouth is the most efficient advertising tool for many businesses geared toward non-cruise ship travelers.

"Having someone refer you to a friend is the best form of advertising," she said. "You will take a recommendation from a friend far more seriously than you would something on the page."

Travel packages like those offered by cruise ships, where the company takes care of all traveling logistics, are a major component of travel trends nationwide, Palmer said.

Alaska Discovery, a guiding company that has been operating in Juneau for 33 years, has used travel packages to keep its growth slow but steady over the last 10 years, said John French, general manager and marketing director for the company.

Travelers "want to mix it up - do stuff outside, camp a little bit, but then maybe come back and have a shower and dinner and a movie," French said. "The baby boomer generation that drove adventure travel is getting a little older, a little softer around the edges."

Less adventurous baby-boomers are more likely to take a cruise than come to Alaska on their own.

"If you were interested in coming to Alaska and you start researching the ways of coming here and the cost, and you compare a cruise to a trip on your own, there's just a very strong pull that a cruise is a cost-effective way to see Alaska," Palmer said.

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