B&B bookings take hit due to virus

Owners have been getting feelers from in-state visitors, but so far reservations have been rare.

Tammy Kehrer of Palmer sits on the deck overlooking Cook Inlet at Ocean Bluff B&B in Kasilof. Kehrer is the daughter of owner Kathy Carlisle. (Photo provided by Ocean Bluff B&B)

Tammy Kehrer of Palmer sits on the deck overlooking Cook Inlet at Ocean Bluff B&B in Kasilof. Kehrer is the daughter of owner Kathy Carlisle. (Photo provided by Ocean Bluff B&B)

Central Kenai Peninsula bed-and-breakfast owners have seen reservations drop and cancellations mount in the wake of the new coronavirus, but are hoping in-state visitors, a late run of out-of-state visitors and even some long-term guests can fill in the gap.

“Miserable,” said John Steckel of Red Cabin Bed and Breakfast in Kenai, when asked how bookings for this summer have been.

Steckel is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Bed and Breakfast Association, which is made up of six B&B’s on the central peninsula. Red Cabin Bed and Breakfast operates a couple of cabins. John Steckel and his wife, Jacquie, have operated the B&B for about 20 years.

With business at 20% of normal, Steckel has decided to do long-term arrangements with two regular customers.

“We’re taking the guaranteed income, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot with availability,” Steckel said.

With out-of-state visitors not coming, Steckel did say he was getting a lot of in-state inquiries. Those in-state inquiries were not resulting in bookings, so Steckel decided to go with the long-term stays.

Steckel said new travel procedures instituted by Gov. Mike Dunleavy did make it possible for the two long-term renters to make plans to come to Alaska.

Currently, a 14-day self-quarantine is in place for interstate and international travelers to Alaska. Starting Saturday, travelers will be able to gain entry to Alaska in several ways, including arriving with a negative COVID-19 test taken within the last 72 hours, taking a COVID-19 test upon arrival and quarantining until results arrive, or doing a self-quarantine for 14 days or for the duration of their stay in Alaska.

“We wouldn’t get anybody at all if they kept up the two-week quarantine,” Steckel said. “We’ve had people ask about that and just decide not to come at all.”

Steckel said his two long-term guests initially balked when they heard about the new restrictions, saying it was hard to get tested if they weren’t showing symptoms and saying the 72-hour window to test before travel was difficult.

“Both thought about maybe not coming, but both really wanted to come,” Steckel said.

Steckel also said those B&B’s that do group dining will have to figure out a way to adhere to guidelines like keeping diners 6 feet apart.

Kathy Carlisle is the treasurer of the Kenai Peninsula Bed and Breakfast Association and operates Ocean Bluff B&B on South Cohoe Loop Road in Kasilof.

Carlisle, who took over Ocean Bluff in 2005, currently has an in-state visitor at her B&B. Other than that, she has a reservation in June, a reservation in July and a reservation in August.

Ocean Bluff, which overlooks Cook Inlet, has three rooms in the house and a cabin available to guests.

“Normally, I would have five or six in May already,” Carlisle said of her reservations. “By the middle of June, I’d be starting to get all filled up.

“Everything, the three rooms in the house and the cabin, are normally completely booked in July.”

Carlisle said her visitors are normally almost all from out of the state, but those visitors are canceling due to the pandemic. Thus far, she said Dunleavy’s new travel restrictions have not changed that.

“They say they can’t travel because they’re afraid to travel, or because of the quarantine,” Carlisle said. “They’re all perfectly legitimate reasons.”

Carlisle has been getting feelers from in-state visitors, but so far reservations from them have been rare.

“I’ve been noticing a lot of Alaskans have been asking about us,” Carlisle said. “What’s with all the Alaska people? They’ve never asked about us. Maybe they’re thinking about a staycation.”

Even if in-state business picks up, Carlisle said those visitors will have jobs or lives to get back to, so she would expect their visits to be two days instead of four or five days.

Carlisle said she is fortunate she didn’t spend any of the reservation money, so it was easy to return. She also has her place paid off so she doesn’t have debt to service.

“I look at my place — what a waste,” she said. “It’s just sitting there with flowers and everything ready, and nobody here to enjoy it.”

At the Gallery Lodge in Kasilof, Dot May still has hope for the summer.

“We are way down according to last year, but I think people are just waiting,” May said. “We’re not closing down, that’s for sure.”

Bob and Dot May have run Gallery Lodge on the banks of the Kasilof River since 2007. There are four rooms in the main lodge, plus three other separate buildings.

Because each of the buildings have full kitchens, and pairs of rooms in the lodge have their own kitchen, Dot is not worried at all about group meals or keeping everybody socially distanced, and everything disinfected.

May said the last half of July typically fills up a year in advance. She said those bookings are still currently holding.

As for June and early July, May said she is getting cancellations, but also is getting calls and some bookings from in-state travelers.

“I don’t think it’s a big deal at all, really,” May said. “I know it will be significantly less than last year, but I’m not worried about it.”

Loni Galloway, of Escape for Two in Soldotna, said that during a normal summer the majority of her bookings would come from out-of-state tourists.

That doesn’t look like it will be the case this year at the B&B, which Galloway has operated for 15 years.

Galloway said that almost every reservation that she had from out-of-state tourists has been canceled, except for a few at the end of July.

“Because of the virus, that’s what they’re saying,” Galloway said. “I understand that. My hands are tied.”

As of Wednesday, Dunleavy’s change in travel regulations had not spurred new out-of-state bookings.

“Most of the tourists have canceled and most of the people we have now are locals from Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla, Soldotna, Kenai and Homer,” Galloway said.

She said she hopes that Escape for Two’s focus on couples will find a nice niche with more in-state travelers.

“I do get people who come here because it is quiet and relaxing and because it’s an escape for two,” Galloway said. “There’s no children and fishermen. There are other places for them.”

Escape for Two’s way of delivering breakfast also works great for the time of coronavirus. Galloway brings fresh items the day before.

“When you’re on your honeymoon, you don’t want me coming for breakfast,” Galloway said.

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