Kenai Peninsula tourism industry on track for an average year

Sep 2, 2017

View of the Homer Spit.

The 2017 tourism season in Homer and on the Kenai Peninsula is heading into its final two weeks, with most business owners closing up their shops after Labor Day. By most accounts, this year was on par with the last two years, but it all depends on where you’re standing or your business that is.  

Anecdotally, there was no shortage of tourists in Homer during peak season, around July and August.

It’s a little early to know exactly how the tourism season went this year based on hard numbers, but there are some indicators. Among them is the number of visitors walking through the Homer Chamber of Commerce’s doors.

“In past years, it’s been maybe about 100 per day. So, it’s up,” Jan Knutson said, manager of the Chamber’s visitor center.

She says this year, about 140 people have come into the chamber daily to see what Homer offers, and it’s averaging about 3,000 people per month.

The Alaska Islands & Ocean Visitor Center saw about the same amount people it did last year between May and August, but the Pratt Museum saw its visitors spike compared to 2016. Some of its offerings, such as harbor tours, over doubled their popularity.

But, sheer numbers of people don’t necessarily translate into booming sales for businesses. Other factors play a role like the economy and weather.

“This year, May and June were horrible weather, cold, nasty, rainy,” Dave Lyon recalled.

Lyon owns Ashore Water Taxi on the Homer Spit, and he says rainy weather led to fewer rides across Kachemak Bay. Lyon also notes that peripheral forces were at play for his business.

“For the three weeks we had no fishing on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, it seriously affected our business. People plan their vacation around halibut fishing” he explained. “Folks are like, ‘Hey, my husband, my boyfriend, the rest of our group went halibut fishing, what can we do today?’ We don’t have that on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.”

Gerri Martin Owns North Country Halibut Charters. She says despite the regulatory cuts from the schedule, she thinks it was a good season for her business and other charter operators.

“We’re slightly down from 2016, but well above 2015. I’m happy. I think it was a good season for most people overall out here,” Martin said.

Borough-wide, water-based guide services did well, pulling in about $600,000 more in tax revenue this year, but others saw mixed results.

Indira Mukambetova owns Better Sweater, a boutique shop on the spit selling its namesake and the Spit Licks ice cream shop.

“The season was good for ice cream shop, but not so much in Better Sweater, not so much bigger items, small items,” Mukambetova said of her customers’ shopping habits this year.

She also notes fewer in-state customers walked into her shop.   

“I think economically, people are tight with money I guess. The Alaska economy, I can feel it,” she explained.

Sales tax revenue shows that overall, Homer did better between April and June than the past two years. Revenue jumped $700,000 compared to last year and is about $2 million more than 2015.  

The lodging industry on the peninsula is down about $3 million compared to last year. Sales tax from bars and restaurants is also trending down slightly from 2016, but the industry is on par with the 2015 season.

However, early-season numbers could shift. Businesses are still submitting tax revenues to the borough for those months and July and August’s numbers haven’t been compiled just yet.