Assembly resists tourism study
The Haines Borough’s Tourism Advisory Board is asking for nearly $30,000 to conduct two tourism impact studies – one for the summer season, one for the winter – but the assembly is balking at the price tag and ambiguity of the proposal.
The proposal, prepared by the McDowell Group, would consist of a 2013 summer study (May to September) and 2013-2014 winter study (October to April) of the direct and indirect economic impacts of tourism on Haines.
Tourism director Tanya Carlson said the study, which the board has been discussing for months, would analyze the trickle-down effects of tourism, like how many people are employed in the industry, how much fuel and supplies businesses purchase locally, and average salaries paid to tourism workers.
“Despite some studies that have been conducted in the past, nothing has looked specifically at the economic impact of tourism as a whole in the Haines community and definitely not the winter season,” Carlson said. “Sales tax only gives one piece of the entire picture to fully understand how many dollars come into the community because of tourism.”
At their Aug. 27 meeting, though, assembly members raised eyebrows about the value of the study as proposed.
Assembly member Debra Schnabel said she was “intrigued” by the idea, but didn’t understand how the data would be practically used. “It seemed to me like it was a $30,000 study – and I don’t mean this to sound glib – to tell us something that we kind of already know. Maybe it’s that we don’t have it quantified, and we don’t have the exact numbers, but we have enough to know tourism is important to the community and that’s why we continue to fund it.”
Mayor Stephanie Scott also said she was “confused about the purpose of this study,” and that she would prefer precision in the design. Focus on the impacts of special events – like the Southeast Alaska State Fair, Chilkat Kluane International Bike Relay and small conventions – and analysis of the tourism link between Haines and Skagway are two things Scott said she would like to see emphasized.
“That study isn’t sufficiently targeted as proposed by the McDowell Group,” Scott said in an interview last week. “I would not support spending $30,000 on that particular design.”
Scott and several other assembly members said studying winter tourism impacts should be prioritized over summer, since those numbers are largely unknown. The direct and indirect benefits of heli-skiing need to finally be hammered out, assembly member Norm Smith said.
Jason Gaffney, co-owner of Alaska Mountain Guides and member of the Tourism Advisory Board, said he thinks the study is necessary, but that summer tourism should be focused on instead of winter and heli-skiing.
“I think it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the summer,” Gaffney said.
Though he has a personal and professional interest in heli-skiing, Gaffney said the overall effect of the industry on the community is “tiny.”
“We only have so many dollars, everybody. Let’s spend it intelligently,” he said.
In an interview last week, Chilkat Guides owner Bart Henderson said he supports borough funding of the study. “It’s important when you have discussions in the community of what you want to do in the future to know clearly what’s going on, what the real numbers are. They’re a bit expensive, these things, but probably over time they pay for themselves.”
The assembly voted 6-0 to send the proposal back to the tourism advisory board for revision. The board met Aug. 30 to hear assembly concerns and form a plan for how to proceed.