ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – The sky above Ketchikan is calm, without the sound of float planes flying south of the city on a tour.
This is only one of the first indications that this year’s tourist season will not run as usual.
Many Alaska regions have popular tourist destinations, a fact that the Alaska Travel Industry Association is now promoting to locals in the Show Up For Alaska campaign that highlights ways Alaska can exploit tourism in the state. But for people outside the road system, there is little hope that Alaskan tourists will replace cruise ship passengers.
Most of Alaska’s population is in Southcentral Alaska, a demographic that rarely visits places like Ketchikan. Patti Mackey, president and CEO of the Ketchikan Visitors Bureau, said the city did not even track the number of Alaskans coming from outside the city – the numbers were too small.
“Traditionally it has been rather difficult to get people from other parts of Alaska here because of the cost of plane tickets, for example, and the time needed to travel from Anchorage to Ketchikan is double that basically required to get to Seattle because of the amount they must stop, “Mackey said.
As the southernmost city on the Alaska Inside Passage, Ketchikan is usually the first stop on a cruise to Southeast Alaska. Today busy ships can almost double the size of the Ketchikan population. Now that most major shipping lines have delayed sailing dates, local businesses are left without their main customers.
The Ketchikan Visitor Bureau surveyed local businesses who asked how long they could experience a delay in returning from the tourist season. Only 27% of businesses say they can survive until next summer without this year’s visitor season.
One of the business owners is Jay Ellis, manager of Julie’s Fine Jewelry and Gifts. His family started a business 30 years ago because more cruise ships began coming to Ketchikan and opening shops became a profitable venture.
Now Ellis is facing an unprecedented customer shortage.
“We can make it until next May. “If nothing happens next summer, we will do it,” Ellis said. “We have to take a bank loan, we have to mortgage our homes, everything is like that to try and save our business.”
Ellis said Ketchikan was a small community, and to stay open all winter, he had to take a bank loan and start every summer with thousands of dollars in debt. Usually, the model works because sales from tourists pay their loans and pay 13 employees.
Ellis, who was born and raised in Alaska, said he had not seen such economic challenges since the Ketchikan Pulp Company closed its plant in 1997.
“I know when the pulp factory closed it, near the ghost, there was a city here,” Ellis said. “I mean when you stop many people in a community and people start leaving the community, our population decreases.”
The city was restored because of tourism, but now it says the city center looks like a ghost town again. Evidenced by the way he could walk without avoiding the hundreds of tourists who usually flood the pier, a fact that was greeted with applause from some local residents.
“Many people around here are like,” Woohoo, we got our city for the summer, “and they don’t understand the effects of water droplets that will occur in this city,” Ellis said.
Not only will the city lose $ 160 million in projected passenger expenses, millions of cruise ship passenger costs and millions of port development costs, but Ellis said small business owners like himself, who like to contribute to youth community and sports, will no longer have the ability to do so.
While most businesses have offered local discounts in previous years, this year they are trying to make a visit that attracts locals too. Allen Marine Inc., a Sitka-based company that also runs Allen Marine Tours and Alaska Dream Cruises, is an attractive travel curator for locals by scheduling short expeditions of 2-3 days on weekends.
“We are very happy because we know a lot of Southeast Alaska and Alaska in general, I would say, have never been to places like Glacier Bay National Park or Tracy Arm,” said Chief Marketing Officer at Allen Marine Tours at Allen Kirk Tours Zak Kirkpatrick. .
Earnings from the tour will be extra at best, coming close to the season record they expect. The company usually employs 170 workers throughout the year and 500 seasonal workers. Because of the pandemic, they have left or terminated all but 40 of the workers.
When the country opens and reduces travel restrictions, ATIA encourages Alaska to travel and collect special Alaskan residents on their website.
“Our industry has been significantly affected by the travel restrictions needed around the pandemic and any support during the summer and fall for the local tourism business is the destination behind the campaign,” said Sarah Leonard, President and CEO of ATIA.
As part of the Show Up for Alaska campaign, ATIA distributed five pairs of round-trip tickets to travel anywhere in the state in a photo contest that will take place throughout the summer. The state population is far smaller than the more than 2 million tourists expected to visit this summer, but that is something.
“We can’t wait for anything,” Ellis said. “And whatever we get is a kind of bonus.”
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