It’s right for the Haines Borough to re-evaluate its tourism promotion program with the departure of director Lori Stepansky, who led the department six years.
Manager Mark Earnest this week broached combining the job with economic development, an idea that didn’t fly with members of the borough’s Tourism Advisory Board. What’s needed is an evaluation of the effectiveness of the program, with an eye toward refining and prioritizing goals.
Voters birthed the tourism program 24 years ago by approving a 1 percent sales tax for visitor promotion. Back then, the town’s largest cruise ship, Stardancer, unloaded RVs at Lutak. There were no regular stops by large ships and groups of bears didn’t congregate along the Chilkoot River. Sport fishing, a Fort Seward salmon bake and the Chilkat Dancers were top attractions.
There was no beer festival, no Kluane-Chilkat bike relay and no heli-skiing. Most promotion was aimed at attracting visitors who drove here from the Lower 48.
Several of the services the tourism program provides today – including website and Internet work and cruise ship obligations – didn’t exist when the tourism program was launched.
What should be the emphasis today? How much effort should be spent on pursuing cruise dockings or heli-skiers? How much of the director’s time should be spent attracting conventions? Or on boosting special events like the bike relay? What role, if any, should a tourism director play in tourism planning or smoothing relations between the industry and residents?
It may pay to have an outfit like McDowell Group address some of these questions and make recommendations, especially in light of the department’s shrinking budget.
At the same time, the borough needs to make an extra effort to recruit a new tourism director nimble enough to walk the tightrope the job demands. The department works with the tourism industry, but it answers to taxpayers, who provide its $320,000 budget.
That’s an arrangement that’s unique to Haines, and it makes this important borough job even more difficult.
The borough planning commission still has many questions to ask about a trailer-based "food court" next to the post office, and similar stands.
Reasonable people can see such development as a great opportunity for fledgling entrepreneurs, or as an eyesore, but either way it seems a public discussion is in order.
Questions include: Do current regulations encourage this style of development? If they do, are those regulations a plus or minus for the community? What regulations should apply to such stands in terms of appearance, location, and parking? What does the sudden surge of stands mean for competing businesses that have invested in permanent buildings and land? How do stands fit into a recent plan for downtown?
If, as planning commission chair Lee Heinmiller asserts, the annual permitting of such structures was based on an interpretation for "temporary structures" made almost 10 years ago as a political decision by a former Mayor, should that interpretation be recognized as a precedent to be built upon?
Why has Skagway recently moved these types of stands off its streets? Might incentives be found to get these businesses into existing, vacant buildings downtown? Dalton City once was identified as a "business incubator" for fledgling operations.
It seems the Haines Chamber of Commerce might play a part in a creative discussion of this development.
The last time we enjoyed a spell of September weather this warm appears to have been 1986. How long ago was that? The Sept. 18, 1986 edition of the Chilkat Valley News that featured a story about temperatures "soaring into the 70s," also included one about plans for a new bank building on an empty lot at Second and Main, the obituary of Jeff David, and a photo of shirtless college student Corky Harris painting the firehall a color described as "Smurf" blue. It’s been a while.
-- Tom Morphet