Preparing for next summer's tourists

Posted: Tuesday, October 23, 2001

With six months before the next cruise ship arrives and Sept. 11 changing the course of international events, tourism industry officials are doing their best to gauge what next summer might look like in Juneau.

The Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau has been talking with tour operators, the cruise industry and other convention and visitor bureaus about changes after Sept. 11. Bureau President John Mazor said the new travel climate will mean changes in marketing and planning.

"We're pretty confident things are going to change," he said. "There's a continued trend for shorter vacation trips and shorter planning periods."

Starting in November, the organization plans to survey potential travelers about their likelihood of visiting Juneau, he said. The JCVB plans to focus marketing on "key corridors," such as California, Oregon and Washington and will use the Internet to keep up with changes, Mazor said.

"We are also not going to be as aggressive as working on our international developing markets. The impact on the German-speaking and Asian markets has been extremely profound," he said. "We won't be as aggressive as we have in the past."

About 10 percent of Juneau's visitors are international travelers, Mazor said.

The JCVB earlier estimated that fallout from the terrorist attacks cost Juneau businesses approximately $2.5 million, Mazor said. Final cruise passenger numbers for the summer should be out in the next couple of weeks, he said.

The city gets sales tax data for July through September at the end of October, and it should be processed by mid-November, City Finance Director Craig Duncan said. Although some cruise ship sailings to Juneau were canceled in September, there was an overall 5 percent increase in passengers from the year before, Duncan said.

"The increase in passengers in July and August was greater than the fact that September was down," he said.

Although the city doesn't have enough information to make tourism-related sales tax predictions for next summer, Duncan said an economic downtown and a possible capital move could hurt sales tax revenue. A draft budget is submitted to the Juneau Assembly in April.

City Tourism Director Maria Gladzisweski said her office doesn't plan to assess or survey business owners about next summer, but would be willing to talk about it if people are interested.

"The thing is that nobody knows what will happen. Everybody knows something might happen," she said. "It's possible it could bring more people to Alaska because it's a safe place to come."

Starting Saturday, the city will begin to survey Juneau residents about tourism issues in a series of Web polls, with the results factoring into a long-range tourism plan. Bob Harvey of Egret Communications, which was contracted to do the study, said his company has noticed that some tourism-related businesses outside of the United States are up for sale or closing.

"On an international scale, there are a number of people going into their high season," he said. "Destinations outside of the U.S. dominated by U.S. travelers are having a real hard time."

Juneau should be thinking about the possibility of a loss of tourism revenue or jobs, Harvey said. Some people are avoiding vacations that require air travel, and cruise ships have been discussed as possible terrorist targets, Harvey said. Such issues will be a part of the upcoming Web polls in Juneau, he said.

"While more cruise ships are being thrown into Alaska waters, there's no indication whether more passengers will be getting on," he said.

Assembly member Dale Anderson, who will handle tourism-related issues as the new chairman of the Planning and Policy Committee, said the city is going to need to keep an eye on jobs and next year's budget.

"We're keenly aware of the potential disaster that could come not only to Juneau, but to the Southeast region following the 9/11 catastrophe," he said. "As a community and a region we're going to have to be very sensitive to that and to work proactively to alleviate the problems."

Princess Cruise Lines announced last week that it would transfer a ship bound for Europe to Alaska next summer, bringing its number of Juneau stops from 92 to 103. Holland America and Celebrity Cruises' ships will make 115 stops in Juneau next year instead of last year's 118.

Kirby Day, director of shore operations for Princess Cruises and Tours in Juneau, said things are changing daily and businesses should be prepared.

"The key is to get people thinking about Alaska this year now more than ever," he said. "Our general sense is that it could be a real good year. Be prudent about expenses and preparing for next year. The only common theme is uncertainty."

Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska is working on next summer's cruise ship schedule for Southeast, but it won't be hammered out for the next month or two, according to Juneau port manager Don Habeger. It's premature to say what exactly the numbers will be, he added.

"We expect more berth capacity and trust the lines themselves will fill their berths, but that's too early to tell," Habeger said.

Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West plans to run eight smaller cruise vessels in Alaska next summer, the same as this past season, according to spokeswoman Maureen Camandona.

Because of a shift in focus from international to domestic travel, Alaska Sightseeing is in a good position, she said. The biggest question is how increased capacity on all lines will affect competition, she said.

"We're quite thrilled that the whole fleet is in Alaska during the summer," she said. "Because of the domestic location, the biggest change will be the capacity, rather than people's reluctance to travel."

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