Tourist business grew late in season

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2003

Tour operators and retail stores that cater to cruise ship passengers in Juneau don't know how much money they made this summer. But one thing is certain, according to one manager in the industry:

"They all made money," said Frank Rich, a manager with Mendenhall Glacier Transport, which operates shuttles and tours between downtown and the Mendenhall Glacier. "Whether or not they made as much as they did last year, I don't know. We'll know that at the end of the year. But everybody makes a living."

Rich and employee Tavna Niemi shuttled their last cruise ship passengers for the season Wednesday morning and happily took down their sign for the season that afternoon.

The passengers on the Celebrity ship Mercury left Vancouver Sunday, arrived in Juneau Wednesday and will end the cruise in San Francisco this Sunday.

Fares for this heavily discounted cruise were advertised as low as $692. Barbara and Allan Finlayson, who came to Alaska for the first time on the ship, paid about $900 each for the cruise.

"It was a good price," said Barbara Finlayson. "We knew it was going to be rainy, but we wanted to come to Alaska."

Cruise ship travel was slow in Juneau at the beginning of the season, but it picked up in the second half of the summer, said Lorene Palmer, CEO of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"I think people are just getting back into travel mode," she said. "And that was the trend around the country - travel picked up nationally in the latter part of the summer."

A survey on the travel industry in Southeast Alaska and Juneau, funded by the JCVB and the City and Borough of Juneau, will be published by the McDowell Group in November, Palmer said.

Fares were heavily discounted throughout the cruise season this year, and people who pay less for their cruises end up spending less once they get here, said Beau Dennis, who manages the gift shop William and Anthony downtown.

His store had slightly lower sales this year than last, he said.

"I think it was a little bit because there were less people up here, and a little bit because they sold more budget tours," he said.

Though the numbers have not yet been compiled for how many people visited Alaska this summer and how much money they spent, Ron Peck, president of the Anchorage-based Alaska Travel Industry Association, believes the season will end flat.

"It was another tough year," Peck said.

He's heard anecdotally that many members of the ATIA, a statewide nonprofit organization made up of more than 1,000 Alaska tourism businesses, had no growth or even saw a decline in business this summer.

More than 770,000 cruise ship visitors were expected in Alaska this summer.

"We don't feel the pie is any bigger - we still feel there will be around 1.2 million visitors," he said. "So if the cruise industry is growing then there are other folks that are feeling the pain."

• Christine Schmid can be reached at cschmid@juneauempire.com.



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