Local tourism biz feels mixed effects of recession

Posted: Friday, June 12, 2009

Dire predictions of a dramatic decrease in tourism and spending are coming true for some this summer, while others are seeing little to no change, local business owners reported.

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Tours and excursions - where the big money is - appear to be hurting the most.

Tim McDonnelle, vice president of tours and marketing for TEMSCO Helicopters, said 30 percent fewer tourists are signing up for tours and that's impacted other aspects of the business.

"We have already hired less people anticipating this coming into the season, so we have hired 10 to 15 less jobs at TEMSCO Helicopters because of this."

Winona Weber, owner of boat tour operator AdventureBound Alaska, said she couldn't quantify the decrease, but "It's the fact that I notice. We have fewer days where we're full, much fewer, and we had more days where our boats didn't go out because we didn't have people."

Sherri Miller of Orlando, Fla., is one such visitor in Alaska for her second time.

"(We) definitely aren't spending as much money as we usually do. Normally we do lots of tours and all of that, we definitely cut back on those."

Anecdotally, downtown gift shop owners said tourist spending for the first month of the season ranged from slightly down from last year to hopeful.

Toni Murphy, co-owner of Alaska Juneau Mining Co. on South Franklin Street, said, "We're a little down from last year" and that tourists are "a little bit tighter on money."

Anthony Mirburi, manager of Princess World Jewelers on South Franklin, said business is "about the same like last year but it's a little bit tougher. ... You have to really hustle for the sales." He's hopeful for the months of June and July.

Anne House, owner of Boheme in the Senate Mall Building and president of the Downtown Business Association, said the recession was of some concern to tourists, "But I don't think it's monumental. I think they're price-conscious."

Patty DiBenedetto, owner of the Alaska Fur Gallery, said, "I think we're just about right, same as last year. (We sell) more accessories though. We're still at the same number as last year at this month." She adds, "There's still people out there spending, I mean at our store at least."

Tourists reported the least impact from the recession.

On South Franklin Street, many of the jewelry stores were completely empty of customers with employees standing around at the counters. By contrast, the souvenir shops were so packed with people it was difficult to move around, on Monday.

"I have to honestly say at this point in time, no impact," said Reisterstown, Md., resident Dave Kennedy, who came to Alaska with a group of 11 family members and friends. "But we've been very fortunate we were able to keep our jobs and pay for our trip and it wasn't as expensive as we (thought)."

George Palko of New Jersey said, "It's really not (affected us)."

For 2005, local consulting firm McDowell Group estimated that 83 percent of cruise ship passengers went on at least one tour in Juneau, spending an average of $100. Overall per passenger spending in Juneau was $186. In 2008, the average per passenger spending was down to $144. A tour specific figure wasn't available for 2008.

In summer 2008, 1.1 million people visited Juneau by cruise ship, airplane or ferry, spending $183 million and creating 2,750 jobs, according to McDowell Group.

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