A Haines Borough cruise and fast ferry passenger survey showed tourists want more sunshine and even a Subway restaurant, but a vast majority were satisfied with their visit.
McDowell Group of Juneau prepared the $20,000, 33-page report, paid for with head tax money.
“We rated higher on what people thought about our town than any other survey they’ve done in Southeast, so that’s a really nice thing,” said tourism director Tanya Carlson. “As we go down in March to talk to each of the cruise lines and try to drum up a few more cruise ships to come here, that’s something that we can take to them.”
The survey, conducted last summer and released in December, drew responses from 190 cruise and 222 fast ferry visitors.
“Passengers notice that the feel of the community is different than larger and more commercial ports like Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan,” McDowell’s report said. “They very much liked the small town quaintness of the community and rated community friendliness highly.”
For cruise visitors, the top features of Haines were scenery/outdoors (26 percent), friendly people/community (17 percent), tour/activity/attraction (16 percent), peaceful/tranquil (11 percent) and “real Alaskan town” (10 percent).
Sixty-five percent were very satisfied with their overall Haines experience, and 35 percent were satisfied. “All but one cruise visitor stated that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall Haines experience, community friendliness, customer service, and tours and attractions in Haines.”
The cruise passengers, with an average annual household income of $104,600, reported spending an average of $85 per person during their visit, including $59 on tours and $21 on shopping.
“Certainly, we’re looking to see what we can do to increase that per-person spending on shopping,” Carlson said. “We’re working on that for this year, to try to draw more people up into the shops and make them realize that we do actually have shopping here, since a lot of the ships don’t get that across very well.”
Shopping was the lowest-rated item in satisfaction among cruise visitors, as 7 percent were dissatisfied.
“The customer is always right so, yes, they’re valid, but we’re in a Catch-22,” said Ned Rozbicki, president of the Haines Chamber of Commerce. “The last time they did one of these surveys, we had more tourist-related shopping opportunities, but with a ship a week or whatever we’re getting, it’s impossible to support them.”
He referred to the “Backroads Alaska” campaign that promotes Haines, Hoonah and Sitka as cruise destinations as one effort to attract more ships.
“If we can get more ships here, it might support more infrastructure, but a business can’t afford to gear up for cruise ship traffic before they get here,” Rozbicki said. “It’s not an ‘If we build it, they will come,’ program. Overall, I would say that the merchants in Haines are doing a great job catering to the clientele that they have.”
The McDowell report noted 96 percent of cruise passengers said they would recommend Haines as a place to visit. “One-third (34 percent) said that returning to Haines was likely or very likely. Considering the remoteness of the community, having one-third of passengers state they are likely or very likely to return should be viewed as a positive endorsement of the Haines experience.”
A continuous walkway along the waterfront was cited as the top potential infrastructure development, ahead of better directional signage, more cultural and historical information, more visitor information kiosks, and more parks and open spaces.
Weather was the least-liked aspect of Haines, selected by 19 percent of cruise respondents, followed by “hills/difficult to get around” and “retail/restaurant service issues.” However, “When asked what they liked least about their Haines visit, nearly half (45 percent) said ‘nothing.’”
Fast ferry passengers expressed even greater satisfaction, with 91 percent either satisfied or very satisfied with their overall Haines experience, and 98 percent would recommend Haines as a destination. “Nearly all passengers were satisfied or very satisfied with community friendliness (97 percent) and customer service (96 percent).”
Visitors on the fast ferry had a higher average annual household income, $115,300, and 93 percent arrived via Skagway. Their average spending was $135 per person, and $119 of that went to tours. Only $8 per person, on average, went toward shopping, and “72 percent of parties reported zero spending on shopping,” the report said.
“We’re not a big money-making port for the cruise lines, so it’s a very difficult decision on their part to come here,” tourism director Carlson said.
Fast ferry passengers traveled in larger parties, averaging 3.6 people, compared with 2.5 people for cruise visitors. They were likely (31 percent) or very likely (21 percent) to revisit Haines.
The report includes an appendix listing responses calling for better cell phone reception, shop hours and weather, and a downtown cleanup. One response said, “There are no restaurants available,” and another argued Haines “needs a Subway restaurant.” Several, though, advised leaders to “keep Haines as it is – don’t commercialize it or make it more ‘touristy.’”
“I thought that we should make a bullet list of all of the recommendations and address each one,” Scott said. “I thought it would be very funny for the community, especially the one about having private teas for the shore execs.”
McDowell recommended for residents to connect with shore executives to market Haines, citing “a somewhat tumultuous past relationship with the cruise industry.” According to the report, “Perhaps private teas, homemade baked goods tastings, or private outdoor adventures may help to convey the community character that is unique to Haines.”
Scott said some of the suggestions are valid.
“Spending time with the crew is one thing, and of course the crew spends money in the town and that’s valuable, but if we really want to help out, I think it’s targeting the shore execs and getting to know them,” she said.
The report can be viewed at www.haines.ak.us, under the “About Us” tab.