The landscape of tourism on the Kenai Peninsula is changing out of necessity.
For the second year in a row the Kenai River will be closed to early king run salmon fishing, an indication of the low numbers of the once notoriously plentiful species.
“Tourism companies operating on the Kenai Peninsula are realizing they have to diversify their businesses,” said Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council Executive Director Shanon Hamrick.
Hamrick helps local operations market their services. Recently she has seen owners add gold mining or bear viewing as options in their daylong fishing trips, she said.
“That was unheard of three years ago,” Hamrick said. “Fishing can’t stand alone anymore.”
To remain viable, companies are taking the necessary steps to maintain a competitive business, Hamrick said.
Former Executive Director of the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Michelle Glaves said Soldotna businesses have also recognized the need to cater to their off-season consumers.
Local businesses like Sportsman’s Warehouse and Trustworthy Hardware are drastically impacted by the tourism season and many of each store’s products appeal to summer consumers, Hamrick said.
Other store’s like the Soldotna-based Ken’s Alaskan Tackle are only open during the tourism season and shutter for the winter when both tourism and fishing on the peninsula slow down.
Hospitality is one of the largest sectors of Kenai Peninsula tourism, Hamrick said. Homer’s Lands End hotel, the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing and Seward’s Breeze Inn are some of the peninsula’s largest employers, she said.
There is a local interest in making sure those positions go to residents, Hamrick said. In tourism, employers first and foremost are looking for quality customer services skills.
The tourists themselves are looking for people who can show them unique entertainment in a safe way, Hamrick said. Organizations such as the Soldotna and Kenai Chambers of Commerce put effort into creating opportunities for locals interested in a career in tourism to take classes that will help them develop competitive skills, she said.
Guided tours are expanding to appeal to the “adventurer traveler,” Hamrick said.
As fishing opportunities decrease, companies are attempting to cultivate an outside interest in the area’s other recreations, she said. Wildlife viewing, zip lining, kayaking and glacier tours are becoming more of a marketing focus, Hamrick said.
Fishermen know about the Kenai Peninsula, Hamrick said. That is not an area where as much marketing effort is needed anymore, so focus is slowly expanding, she said.
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