Goldbelt hopes for upswing in SE's tourism industry

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Goldbelt Inc., the urban Native corporation for Juneau, is doing as well as any other business in Southeast Alaska's tourism industry, company officials told shareholders at the corporation's annual meeting Saturday.

"The shareholders seem to understand the economic condition we've been operating under for the last couple of years," said Randy Wanamaker, outgoing chairman of the corporation's board of directors.

Approximately 200 of the corporation's estimated 3,300 shareholders attended the meeting in Juneau, and another 1,780 voted by proxy. Roughly half of the shareholders live in Juneau.

Goldbelt, with subsidiaries primarily in the tourism industry, lost $4.4 million in 2001 and $18 million in 2002. The 2002 losses were primarily due to the corporation's Glacier Bay Tours operation, which lost $14 million that year, Goldbelt President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Droubay said at the end of May. He was traveling and unavailable for comment Monday.

Growth in the tourism industry has slowed significantly in recent years, said Ron Peck, president and chief operating officer for the Alaska Travel Industry Association. In 2002, the industry showed virtually no growth from the 2001 season - a significant change from the constant expansion of the 1990s.

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak of this year and the overall poor U.S. economy have had a significant impact on Goldbelt's ability to make a profit in recent years, Wanamaker said.

Andrea Cadiente-Laiti, Kathy Polk and Walter Johns Jr. were re-elected to three-year terms on the board of directors at Saturday's meeting. At a separate board meeting Sunday, the panel elected Carl Nelson as chairman, Joe Kahklen as vice chairman, Edith McHenry as corporate secretary and Cadiente-Laiti as treasurer.

Nelson, who has served on the board of directors since 1987, said he will work closely with Droubay to "get things turned around"

Though many of the shareholders who attended the meeting expressed disapproval of the poor return on Goldbelt's investments, most understood the importance of the tourism industry to the corporation, Nelson said.

"Tourism is the only game around," Nelson said. "Whatever aspect of business you have, you've got to gear towards tourism. Hopefully it will lift and turn around and be very profitable."

Goldbelt is in the process of selling Glacier Bay Tours to a buyer it won't name. If the sale goes through, the corporation should significantly reduce its losses this year, or break even, said Wanamaker. Goldbelt will continue to operate the Glacier Bay Lodge.

Wanamaker is hopeful the tourism industry in Southeast Alaska soon will begin a recovery.

Wanamaker resigned as chairman of the board of directors at the meeting, citing a desire to explore other options in public service.

"I enjoy my government service, and I think I'll take a look at that as the area I'd like to work in the future," said Wanamaker, a member of the Juneau Assembly and a former member of the Juneau School Board.

He said his next move may be a campaign for mayor of Juneau, but he wanted to wait until the end of his term as chairman before making any decisions.

Wanamaker will remain a director of the corporation until his term ends in two years.

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