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Tour industry gets welcome boost in 2005

More ship and plane passengers increase sales and hotel occupancy

Posted: Tuesday, September 20, 2005

When the tourism season ends next week, industry officials estimate some 1 million visitors will have come to Juneau - about 50,000 more than last year.

Business owners catering to tourists say they saw a slight bump in sales, possibly from the added guests who arrived on the Norwegian Dream cruise ship. The new ship made 11 stops in Juneau this summer, according Lorene Palmer, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Alaska Airlines flew in more passengers this year, possibly due to higher capacity on planes, Palmer said. May arrivals were up 14 percent, and June and July were up 3.4 percent and 5 percent, respectively; August and September figures were not available.

"With all things considered, we made a little more than last year. But we didn't meet the amount we hoped," said Tony Hernandez, owner of the Sitka-based Baranof Jewelers.

Hernandez said cruise ship passengers are expecting to buy jewelry and other gifts when they come to Alaska, due to the cruise industry marketing tours as shopping experiences.

"Cruise ships and shopping go hand in hand," he said.

Boat passengers may have more time on shore thanks to technology that allows the ships to dock longer without harming the environment, said David Summers, owner of Alaska Knife Works.

His sales are up 7 percent, a relief after a long recovery from restrictions in place since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Summers said he ships about half of his inventory; passengers are not allowed to carry knives on board.

Several shop owners were reluctant to say what their best product was this year, for fear that the competition might find out.

Six or seven jewelry stores are expected to open downtown next year, jewelry store managers said.

Carol Carlson, owner of Gold Mine Gifts, said passengers are spending money on jewelry and not having enough left for other gifts.

Passengers also are taking shore excursions, such as flightseeing trips and buses to the Mendenhall Glacier. Bob Jacobson at Wings of Alaska said business was ahead in May, June and the first part of July. His company's success became bittersweet with the spike in fuel costs that began in July, Jacobson said.

Flightseeing and other outdoor tours fare well when the weather is sunny while retail businesses see better days when light showers fall, said Chris Wyatt, executive director of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.

Independent and motor coach travelers were significant in helping the Prospector Hotel have one of its best seasons in five to six years, said general manager Leesa Castro.

"We had an occupancy rate of 90 percent," she said.

The Goldbelt Hotel Juneau saw different results. Spokeswoman Joanne Wiita reported a "flat" season, citing a decline in independent travelers. She said cruise ships are marketing package tours to travelers as a cheaper vacation.

"The convention business is our most valuable market," she said.

The cruise ship industry has been capturing a younger demographic, Palmer said. Some cruises offer rock climbing walls, fitness centers and yoga classes, she said.

This year's increase in gas prices was not reflected in the number of tourists coming here because many companies did not alter tour prices already printed on brochures, but Palmer said that could change next year.

Marie Phillips, owner of three gift shops downtown, including the Midnight Sun, said retail shops could be hit next year with higher rent when tax assessors re-evaluate the properties. Landlords could pass on the cost of the tax to renters, she said.

Summers said local businesses are suffering because of marketing tactics on cruise ships. The cost to advertise with a major group, such as On Board Media, can be around $28,000 per ship, he said.

"That's too much for family-owned businesses," he said.

• Andrew Petty can be reached at andrew.petty@juneauempire.com



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