As the snow melts and the sun lingers longer and longer every day, travelers from near and far are gearing up to visit the Kenai Peninsula.
In recent years, the peninsula has seen its tourism season balloon to the hundreds of thousands. During the five-month 2016 summer season, nearly 563,000 visitors came to the Kenai Peninsula, according to data from the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council.
Executive Director of the marketing council Dennis Meadows said that number has gone down slightly since the 2016 season but he’s still expecting a robust turnout comparable to past years.
“I believe it will be a good and successful visitation season this year,” Meadows said.
He said he didn’t have the firm projection numbers, but based on guidebook requests, this summer season should a lot like last year’s, which was only slightly down from previous years.
Seward is expecting more cruise ships to dock this summer, meaning more visitors traveling to the small peninsula town.
Looking into future years, Meadows said the peninsula can expect to see a growing traveler market from Asia.
“As we look forward, that market will impact us without a doubt,” Meadows said.
Within the U.S., Meadows said many travelers are coming to Alaska from the western and southeastern states.
“In the Southeast, there has been a stronger interest demographic than what has been there historically,” Meadows said.
There has been a stronger interest in birding too, Meadows said.
The three big draws to the Kenai Peninsula have consistently been to see glaciers, wildlife and to-go fishing, whether that’s guided or not guided.
More families with young teenagers are coming to visit the Kenai Peninsula, as well, Meadows said. In 2016, the tourism council data showed that the average traveler was in their 50s.
In the summer of 2016, data from the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council shows that visitors spent $187 million while touring the peninsula, with $61 million of that going towards tours and activities.
Locally, on the central peninsula, the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce is getting ready for a busy summer season. Early this year, the Soldotna Chamber won a $25,000 grant to improve the Music in the Park series, which runs every Wednesday, June through August. This year, bands will be coming from all over the country and will be opened by a local band.
Soldotna Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shannon Davis said the chamber will be marketing the concert series to neighbors in Anchorage in an effort to bring more visitors to Soldotna.
In August, more than 100 community leaders from all over Alaska will visit Soldotna for the Alaska Municipal League Conference, which will be hosted by Soldotna Chamber of Commerce.
Davis said the chamber is hoping to reach more travelers by revamping of their website, which is more than seven years old.
“The chamber is facilitating the creation of a beautiful, world-class responsive chamber of commerce and destination website that captures the spirit of Soldotna,” Davis said. “Our goal is to have clear organization and navigation built on a deep understanding of how people research travel and use online content and tools. We will capture consumers interested in traveling to Alaska and the Kenai Peninsula, then sell them on Soldotna with a wide array of features for travelers, from great social media integrations to trip planners, media galleries, calendars and more.”