As threatened, I read the study "Nature-Based Tourism in Southeast Alaska:Results from 2005 and 2006 Field Study" by Darcy Dugan, Ginny Fay, Steve Colt of the Institute of Social and Economic Research of University of Alaska Anchorage and Eco-Systems. Funding for the study came from Alaska Conservation Foundation, The University of Alaska GINA Project, and The Wilderness Society. The stated purpose is to "add to the information and knowledge base available to help people make informed decisions." Sounds interesting, right? Here is the link to the paper at UAA website, www.iser.uaa.alaska.edu/Publications/SEnbt_final.pdf.
I read this study as essentially descriptive and it did not address the development of tourism and its effects on local communities in a critical manner. It outlined the significant financial impact of the tourism industry in the communities in SE. It sought to place an annual value or describe the value of maintaining pristine or simi-pristine areas for nature-based tourism.
I am somewhat conflicted regarding tourism development in Seldovia. It is a little creepy having people walk around and look at us like we are a bunch of rubes."Oooh, Honey! Look at that freaky looking dude, driving that old truck with the kids and the dog in the back. Take a picture." Personally, I try to subtly interject myself into as many of these photos as I can; summer fun! But I like the tourist as well, because those people were me and Tracy 13 years ago. Getting off the Rainbow Connection, walking down the middle of Main Street. Tracy saying, "This is where I want to have kids." Me saying, somewhat stunned, "I thought we didn't want kids." I knew then Tracy would be having a child. Now in deep for 11 years and with the kid showing up 10 years ago the picture is complete. I am now wondering where is the kid going to get the demeaning and debasing job in the next couple of years. I mowed lawns and had a series of degrading low-paid service sector jobs in my early teens that taught me that I must evolve and find a better way. Tourism is going to be in Seldovia. How it is going to happen and how it will or if it will expand, I think this study gives some idea and may "help people make informed decisions."
Below is "Key Findings" from the study. I commented on them in bold type as I read along and saw how they related to Seldovia. I am not going to be exhaustive and I am ignorant of many factors that should be considered, but this is mostly an exercise for me and my two other readers!
8.1 Key Findings
Nature-based tourism generates over $250 million per year of direct business revenues in Sitka, Juneau and Chichagof Island for the companies we surveyed. This is most likely an underestimate of total revenue because not all nature-based tourism businesses and business sectors were surveyed or included in our estimates. Also, this total does not include sales tax
revenue to local government. In addition, the summer of 2006 was especially wet, which decreased activity for some businesses.
A number of key findings emerged from this research, despite its limited geographic scope.
These include the following:
• Tourism in Southeast Alaska is primarily focused on nature-based activities as people are attracted to the region for its beautiful scenery, fisheries, wildlife, marine mammals, glaciers, and other natural attributes.
We got some of that going on.
• Nature-based tourism creates a significant economic ripple effect that keeps money circulating through many sectors of the economy. This money supports jobs in marketing, support services, food and beverages, accommodations, fuel sales, government, and other sectors.
That's basic economics, the multiplier effect. But a lot of the profits will be taken out of the economy as dividends for corporate shareholders and for summer entrepreneurs who take their profits elsewhere, but that is were an appropriate tax comes in. Hardly anyone ever agrees to be taxed and taxes seem to be complicated here!
• A large and growing portion of Southeast Alaska’s tourism sector and visitors are cruise ship passengers. These visitors are similarly interested in nature-based tourism services as are independent travelers. The majority of shore excursions provide nature-based activities, from hikes and glacier viewing to flightseeing and forest canopy zip lines.
Substitute ”Summer Daily Ferry” for cruise ship and that seems true. As far as excursion infrastructure we only have the ATVentures, the new folks in the Synergy/Parka Lady Cabin, KayakAttack and the Linwood on certain nights (you are never quite sure where you will end up during a Linwood adventure).
• There is a complex and extremely competitive system for prebooking shore excursions the cruise ship. (sic) Businesses with exclusive cruise contracts make price and tour information only available to cruise passengers and often agree not to sell tours without going through the cruise line. While having a shore excursion contract with cruise lines appears to ensure a consistent client base, the trade-off is accepting the marketing, advertising, pricing, and commission restrictions imposed by the cruise companies.
Maybe it will be exclusive contracts with the “Daily Ferry Company”. This is where we will all benefit from the good communication so we can understand where we are all coming from and going to, and focus on long term benefit to the entire community. Certainly some may benefit more, but this in still America, and that's how it works.
• The tourism businesses in cruise ports of call that appear to be most successful either have a cruise ship shore excursion contract or are catering to overnight (non-cruise) guests with high quality and high value services. Examples of these types of businesses include sportfishing lodges and multi-day yacht cruises.
It seems like the businesses focusing on high-end travelers to be successful there has to be more here. More lodges, more stuff to buy and more stuff to do. The client's lifestyle revolves around making, or having a large amount of money and finding places to spend large amounts of money. With more here more demand will be created and the competition will create demand and hopefully everyone does better. Other models would be that there is always a Safeway across the street from a Kogers with an Albertson’s a block away. These corporations aren’t dumb; they all make money.
• Unless a company offers a new creative shore excursion idea, it is difficult to compete with businesses with existing cruise contracts. This is especially true if the new business requires a large number of clients to be profitable.
Seldovia will have to worry about that if we ever have more going on here.
• There are a number of companies, however, that are tapping into new and creative markets including canopy ziplines, glass bottom boats, and an amphibious “duck” tour.
Local opportunities, but where do people put them. In SE everyone has access to public lands and operator permits.
• Some operators attribute the increased interest in adventure activities to a change in cruise ship clientele. In recent years, cruise companies have been catering to a younger crowd, targeting families. In any event, increasing numbers of passengers are interested in more active pursuits.
• For shore excursions aimed at cruise passengers, competition exists not just with companies within a community but with other ports, as people are booking their shore excursions in advance and look at all the options. Sitka companies mentioned they were carefully tracking ziplines in Juneau and Ketchikan, dogsled tours on the Mendenhall Glacier, and other activities to see which market niche they could capture.
We have to compete with Homer and Halibut Cove. Homer is a mini-Kenai with a view and patchouli and Halibut Cove is not really a town, but a collection of summer homes occupied occasionally. We are trending that direction. Although they have the access to State Parks. And the houses are interesting, if the people aren’t.
• There is some evidence that visitors are willing to pay premium prices for higher quality experiences in more pristine environments. It is not clear, however, what specific attributes (seclusion, fishing experience, food, services, perceived exclusivity, and environmental amenities) are the key components of this higher market value.
People have been mining, logging and riding those damn ATV all over the pristine environments recently and for years, but that is all interesting history that can be marketed. And you really can’t see all the shit on the bottom of the ocean.
• It is possible to design a community-based tourism program that provides employment to local residents as is occurring in Hoonah. However, Elfin Cove appears to bring in more in gross revenues than Hoonah with about one-eighth as many visitors because Hoonah’s operation relies on volume while Elfin Cove relies on higher-priced fishing lodge experiences. Day trips seem to be relatively high-cost, low-profit operations.
Looking at it from our underdeveloped perspective in Seldovia, it makes me want to choose one form of development over the other. False either/or dilemma. (This make twice in one blog that I have used knowledge from long ago college courses. Economics and Logic. College wasn’t a waste of time look how it is paying off!!!) Both ways of development could still happen, as well as not happen. There are a couple new developments along with some longstanding family businesses. Maybe the ferry is a part of a community-based development plan, but the infrastructure is not present on this side and the build it and they will come strategy is a long held Alaskan model for government that pans out occasionally, i.e. Matanuska diary, barely elevators, pipeline.
• Independent travelers appear to avoid the crowds and many are repeat visitors. Most tend to stay longer and have more open itineraries than those on cruise ships or organized tours. These characteristics make independent travelers more difficult to survey directly.
• The primary marketing mechanisms for smaller, non-cruise related businesses are the Internet and word of mouth. In addition, many customers return to the same fishing lodge, yacht tour, or other business year after year.
Thank the Glovers for Seldovia.com. My relatives do keep up with the town happenings, but they are mostly looking for Andy’s new reports and the photos. And everytime I talk to them about the site, I am amazed at how many hits the site gets. I must say that I do miss Savannah’s reporting in the Herald.
• Companies in several communities expressed a desire to move toward more marine wildlife viewing and sightseeing and away from sport fishing. These operators preferred wildlife viewing as it was less stressful with less pressure to catch fish. Wildlife viewing is highly attractive to visitors due to spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife including whales and other marine mammals. Some operators were making this shift, while others think they would not be able to match the revenue generated by sport fishing.
• Weather has a significant impact on business for companies whose tours are not prebooked on cruise ships. Operators noted a marked difference between the sunny, dry summer of 2004 and the remarkably wet summer of 2006. Owners noted that visitors walking off the ship in the rain were much less likely to go on marine tours or hikes in soggy conditions, and their seasonal revenue was down. Businesses with cruise contracts did not experience this setback as passengers are not reimbursed for presold tours when weather conditions are poor. The one exception was flightseeing, where companies had to cancel tours due to unsafe weather conditions.
We have better weather than SE.
• Promoting wildlife watching is an important marketing strategy for Southeast Alaska communities. Visitors’ bureaus produced pamphlets with charismatic megafauna, such as whales and bears. Bureau staff cited studies showing the desire to see wildlife is what attracts a large portion of out-of-state visitors.
Anchorage is almost out of state and our environment on the south side of the Bay is different than Homer; we can market to that.
• A significant economic question that emerges from this research is how the public lands might be managed to maximize the economic returns to residents of Southeast Alaska communities, especially the smaller communities that can only accommodate smaller numbers of visitors at one time.
This is a big one along with the taxes. There are no public lands, such as the Tongass and Chugach National Forrest, Glacier Bay National Park etc. adjacent to Seldovia. We have some easements that take people to small parcels but the surrounding lands are privately owned and there utilization may change rapidly as SNA sees additional opportunities to maximize the benefits to their shareholders. That is what corporations do in this day and age and if you don't like it you better move to Cuba, no further, China, actually you can't go anywhere. There certainly are examples of this happening locally where the corporations benefit shareholder over the benefit to the community. For there to be significant capital invested locally, other people, corporations need to have access assured. That would be a lawyer thing to have looked at. Maybe SNA is looking at developing all this infrastructure themselves and the jobs that are developed will be of benefit to the community. It is that multiplier effect again.
Like I said I don't have an expansive grasp of all the issues, but I see ongoing inability of the community to develop an industry that could be a part of a healthier economy. Let's face it the only growth I am seeing is the influx of doctors/lawyers building summer homes and hippies living in wall tents and chicken coops. That maybe enough though.