Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Tourism gains after '09 drop in business Stores, independents recover faster than shore excursions


October 14, 2010

Owners of stores and RV parks in Haines this week said they saw an increase in independent summer travelers from 2009. Shore excursion tour companies that saw the loss of bimonthly dockings by a large ship and the bankruptcy of a small cruise line gave mixed reports.

"We had a really good, constant flow of traffic, and it slowed down in August, for a little bit," said

She said business was "more steady" than in 2009, and travelers "started early."

"We had quite a few people coming early on, in April, trying to beat the rush,"

The park was full a lot, she said, but, "I don’t know how the numbers turned out just yet." Repeat visitors and Europeans drove Oceanside’s success.

Last year,

Alison Jacobson of Alaska Fjordlines said her family’s private ferry business "was much better than last summer. Last summer was a down year for a lot of people, us included."

She said Alaska Fjordlines relied on more Canadians and Europeans, plus tourists from Australia and New Zealand. The rental motor home market has been strong, with Europeans arriving in Haines and Skagway from Whitehorse, and they can take a day trip to Juneau.

"I think that for the Lower 48, traffic is still down, although it was better than last summer," Jacobson said.

Angela Robinson, visitor information coordinator and acting interim director for the Haines Convention and Visitors Bureau, said road traffic has been level for the year.

Numbers from U.S. and Canada border stations between May and August show vehicles southbound increased to 11,359 from 10,124 in 2009, and the number of individuals also increased slightly to 23,656 this year from 21,732 in 2009.

Those numbers, however, are tempered by a decrease in northbound car traffic to 7,944 from 8,537 in 2009, and in individuals, whose numbers dropped to 17,616 from 18,780 in 2009.

Cruise ship passengers dropped by more than a quarter.

"Our cruise numbers, we were about 11,000 people down from last year, about 26 percent," Robinson said. "We had fewer ships this year, and I know the American economy has a lot to do with it and the price of fuel has a lot to do with it, as far as people traveling, in general."

Robinson said she is optimistic for 2011.

"For the most part, as far as tire traffic, we’re running pretty close to what 2009 numbers were, but the cruise part of it was definitely down," she said. "That was something that we had actually anticipated, because we knew that they had pulled a ship. Next year, hopefully things will turn around. We actually have a Disney ship that’s going to be coming into Skagway, so hopefully we will be able to get some of those passengers over here to enjoy Haines, as well."

Michael Ahmuty, operations manager for Chilkat Guides, said 2010 was "a mixed year with some numbers stable and some falling due to a decline in the volume of the market."

"Our rafting business maintained its historic levels but Glacier Point was down from last year," Ahmuty said. "All in all, the season was about what we expected. We knew we were losing ships and we adjusted staff levels to cut costs."

He said cruise ship numbers would continue to be a concern.

"Losing Cruise West next year will be rough," Ahmuty said. "We appreciate Holland America’s continued support of Haines for the upcoming 2011 season. Once again they will be docking in Haines on Wednesdays. We really need to focus on getting ships to stop in Haines if we want to maintain the current level of visitation. We are hopeful next year will pick up some. We are going to see new vessels enter into the Alaska market and others increasing their number of calls."

Dan Egolf, who operates a sporting goods store and a shore excursion business, said his store receipts appear to be up from a year ago. "We’re seeing more Canadian neighbors with the parity on the dollar."

The traffic he saw off cruise ships was up from last year, he said, but added that "last year was pretty bad."

Tom Heywood, owner of the Babbling Book store, said business was up, but tourism wasn’t the driving force.

"Looking at June, July and August, totaling those up, we were up 8 percent over last year, although we were down some from the year before," Heywood said. "All in all, it was a pretty decent summer. I think our numbers represent an increase in local library, school and Klukwan School orders. It’s not so much an increase in tourism, because tourism seemed like it was down a little bit, but our overall numbers for this summer are up 8 percent."

He said sales of Heather Lende’s second book, "Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs," also had a positive impact. Heywood noted large cruises "aren’t a big, huge influx of customers downtown, at least not for us."

"Those fast ferries from Skagway seem to be helpful, and we’ve always done well with road traffic," Heywood said. "The cruise ship that comes in on Wednesdays is really not very big for us."

Joyce Town, owner of Oceanside RV Park. "Of course, we had a great weekend with the Canadian holiday. I had a full park again, and that was good."Town said. "That was their story, that they were trying to beat the crowds. Unfortunately, they were way early, because there wasn’t a lot to do, as far as tours and things like that, they weren’t open yet."Town told the Chilkat Valley News that camping at her park was down about 30 percent for the year, when the busy season "started about three weeks late and ended three weeks early."