Get ready for another busy tourist season in the Kenai Peninsula.
Projections for 2014 have called for another 2 percent increase with an estimated 500,000 peninsula visitors, said Shanon Hamrick, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.
Hamrick said she is expecting record numbers based on a marketing study that requested travel intentions of Alaska residents. The number of visitors has risen steadily since 2010. Last year the tourism council projected 400,000 and expects even more this summer.
The marketing study, which asked where people come from and what activities they seek, pointed to fishing as the number one draw.
“The Kenai River is well-known among fishermen as world famous,” she said. “People come from all over the country to drop a line here.”
The impact of tourism in the local economy is far reaching. Fishing charter guides, restaurants, lodging, art galleries and medical services all benefit from the influx of people in the summer time. Visitors can create new business through retail, construction and transportation and can grow the local economy, she said.
Kenai Peninsula Borough sales tax numbers increased last year by 2.5 percent and 3.6 percent was influenced by visitors because there is no sales tax cap on lodging or guided tours, she said.
While Anchorage is the most prolific market for visitors, the Kenai Peninsula sees more and more people from the Lower 48 each year, Hamrick said.
“Alaskan visitors want to see mountains, glaciers and wildlife and the great thing about the Kenai Peninsula is we have that better than anyone else,” she said. “They come to view our incredible outdoor scenery and see amazing animals.”
An estimated 1 million people travel to Alaska via cruise ships each year, making it the top mode of transportation to the state, she said.
While Seward and Homer have cruise ports, most of the tourists that come to the Kenai Peninsula fly into Anchorage and drive down, she said.
Hamrick said a lot of visitors’ first experience of Alaska is on a cruise ship. The cruise lines do a good job of keeping their revenue internal because visitors do not spend as much time on land spending money, she said.
“An Alaska vacation may seem intimidating to people at first, but once they see all there is to do here, they come back on their own,” she said.
An expanded air service with more flights available to Kenai Municipal Airport has had a positive impact in bringing more visitors in, she said.
Besides fishing, the Kenai Peninsula offers a variety of activities for tourists to enjoy, from hiking the multitude of trails, viewing the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park, sea kayaking and day cruise tours in Kachemak Bay and a visit to Homer’s Spit. She said events such as Salmonstock, Mount Marathon and the Kenai Peninsula Beer Festival are other enjoyable attractions for visitors.
Hamrick said a new zipline tour will open outside of Seward this summer, operated by Denali Zipline Tours of Talkeetna. A new 80-acre park near Bear Lake will serve as a zipline canopy tour through the forest and offer views of the surrounding mountains.
She said the zipline tour will be a great attraction to the area and is sure to be an exciting adventure.
Hamrick said tourism acts as a shop window for the lifestyle of the area. With the abundance of recreational activities available on the Kenai Peninsula, it is no wonder people are drawn to the area.
“We have branded ourselves as Alaska’s playground,” she said. “We look forward to all the fun to be had this year.”
Dan Balmer is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.