Small tour company decides expansion can wait
The tourism season for summer 2020 was, as we keep hearing, supposed to have been a record breaking one for Alaska’s visitor industry, with untold numbers of Outsiders arriving by RV, plane and cruise ship. And in preparation, were hundreds of businesses ready to show them a little piece of Alaska.
Of course most of those Outside visitors will not show up this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the local tourism industry is scrambling to shift gears to attract other Alaskans to the Kenai Peninsula in order to help save the season.
But not all tourism-related businesses are going that route. One eco-tour company in Seldovia was about to activate the booking function on its web page late last month when the governor opened the state up before Memorial Day, but when the number of positive coronavirus cases immediately jumped, owner/operator of Seldovia Nature Tours Cindy Mom thought better of it.
“And yes, it has put everything on hold. And I think the disappointment and even grief about something that you've worked so hard to develop and to get up and running, and then all of a sudden the brakes are just put on it and you can't do it,” Mom said. “You know, I've done a lot of preparation and building the website and trying to build awareness in the outside world that I'm here, you know?”
Mom started her business in 2018, and felt she was ready to take the next step this year, promoting her tours more widely and dedicating more time to them.
Mom leads natural and cultural history walking tours in and around Seldovia, with a lot of bird watching. In fact, a comment of support she got on social media from a photographer who comes to Alaska in the summer made her feel better about not expanding her business this year.
“So he comes to Alaska every year and he decided not to come this year. And he comes here for business and does photography, which then he publishes in some different Alaska magazines. And he said he was not coming to Alaska. And I think that's amazing, you know, that people are making that sacrifice whether it's for their personal travel and vacation and that sort of thing, or for business reasons,” Mom said. “Because I think they understand, you know, Alaska, we're vulnerable here. You know, we don't, we don't have the infrastructure, hospitals, all that stuff to support if a whole bunch of us get sick.”
In addition, Mom says she wouldn’t want the burden of being the vector in which Covid-19 reached the village.
“I personally don't think that it's worth it to risk the lives of people who live here. We have 40 percent of our community considered at higher risk. And some of those folks are my very best friends, that I consider them my Seldovia family. I didn't grow up here, so I kind of, I have this adopted family,” Mom said. “And it's not worth it to me. I mean I would rather go into debt and put stuff on my credit card to get through this than have a few tours and run my business and bring someone here who has the virus and have that be my responsibility for creating that situation.”
Mom says she knows not everyone is as flexible as she is, despite the financial hardship it will cause to put her plans on hold.
“I'm really fortunate because I don't have dependents and I don't have a mortgage and I live very simply and I have a big garden and wild food right outside my door (that) I can go pick or try to catch a fish,” Mom said. “But I'm not taking it lightly. I know that people's decisions have been made for them because they have to earn money to feed their kids, you know. I don't have that, so I have a bit of freedom to be idealistic, I guess.”
Mom says she has led some tide pool walks with locals, all of them masked up and spread out, and observed that the number of visitors to Seldovia this season is still way down from years past.