Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 6:25 PM on Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Tourism up 10-12 percent, chamber chief tells council

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer

As the Homer City Council starts its annual budget process, it got a sign of hope that could mean higher sales tax revenues: Tourism is up 10 to 12 percent this year.

Homer Chamber of Commerce Director Monte Davis delivered the bit of good news Monday in a visit to the city council. Based on figures like visitor center logs and tour guide requests, Davis said the 2011 season in general is better than the 2010 season.

Some businesses haven't fared well, however, Davis said.

"The truth of the matter is some of the small businesses are feeling the pinch," he said.

Davis noted that small charter companies which, in the past, would reap overflow from bigger companies are hurting. The charter fleet was reduced substantially with new federal rules that went into effect in February restricting who could guide.

One of tourism's favorable signs this season has been the visit of 10 cruise ships so far this summer, bringing an estimated 10,000 new visitors to Homer. Davis said some businesses have told the chamber they haven't seen an impact from cruise ship visitors.

Citing industry figures that say one out of three cruise ships visitors return to Alaska within three years, bringing an average of 3.8 extra visitors, Davis said cruise ship visits can be seen as good advertising. How a community treats them will determine where they return in Alaska, he said.

"What they remember, the way they decide where they're going to go when they come back, is 'What is the friendliest community?'" Davis said. "It is a gold mine we need to mine."

One dark note to tourism prospects is the effect of a draft federal rule that could restrict guided halibut fishing.

Under the Catch Sharing Plan published last month in the Federal Register, Area 3A, the regulatory area that includes Homer, Seward and Cook Inlet, guided halibut fishermen could be allowed one fish a day or two fish with a size limit on one of the fish. The current limit is two fish a day with no size restrictions.

"If it (the Catch Sharing Plan) goes into effect, it could have some serious consequences for our derby," Davis said.

The Homer Jackpot Halibut Derby committee is still reviewing new ideas for the derby.

The chamber sponsors an information meeting on the Catch Sharing Plan at 7 p.m. Friday at Land's End Resort. Representatives from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries will visit to discuss the draft rules. A comment period on the rules ends Sept. 6.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.