Outlook for road-system tourism unclear

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Alaska-bound cruise ships are now bringing their streams of visitors north, but that doesn't mean tourist businesses on the road system are humming. Whether this will be a down season or a decent one for Alaska's land tourism isn't yet clear.

Some travelers attracted by cruise companies' bargain ticket prices didn't spring for the more expensive land tours, said Tom Dow of Princess Tours in Seattle.

"Overall, our assessment is the number of people who are taking land tours is down somewhat," Dow said.

In Soldotna, the co-owner of Johnson Brothers Guides and Outfitters said their business will be down this year, but it's more than just fallout from Sept. 11.

"Subsistence issues, (Alaska Department of) Fish and Game internal problems, Board of Fish internal problems, and 9-11," Don Johnson said. "You put them all together and you've got yourself a massive train wreck."

Johnson said that proposed catch-and-release regulations for early-run Kenai River king salmon - now being delayed a year - have caused clients to look elsewhere. Just the hint that people might not be able to keep a king scares anglers away, he said.

Soldotna Bed and Breakfast owner Steven Anderson said he's seen a slide in bookings, as well as some major cancellations.

"We've had about $50,000 worth of cancellations," he said. "It's still early to tell, but I would say June is going to be a big disappointment. But the way I look at it, heck with it. If we're not that busy, we've got a lot more time to enjoy."

Reservations are also down for Pike's Waterfront Lodge in Fairbanks, said owner Jay Ramras. His 182-room hotel usually takes overflow customers from two hotels owned by cruise lines, the Fairbanks Princess Hotel and Westmark Fairbanks Hotel and Convention Center.

"We'll consider it a successful season if we're only down by single digits," Ramras said. "It's hard to be an independent hotel."

Helen Marrs, Seward Chamber of Commerce executive director, and Kenai Fjords reservation supervisor Sarah Hanson say things look good for their port city.

"Reservations are up," Hanson said. "Our theory is that all of the people that were going to travel to Europe are going to stay and travel domestic."

Marrs agreed, saying cruise ship passengers coming into Seward are equal to last year's numbers.

Alaska Travel Industry Association spokesman Mark Morones said the Alaska tourism industry had slipped into something of a rut even before Sept. 11.

"The tourism industry in Alaska has been a growth industry, and that growth is slowing down," he said. "We (are) trying very hard to encourage people within the state to travel and take advantage of all the things there are to see up here."

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