Signs point to a strong tourism season, but some fishing charters say they lost business
Summer is coming to an end, and Homer’s seasonal shops are closing down. Signs point to a strong summer season for tourism-related businesses but fishing charters say they’ve seen better.
Indira Mukambetova owns the the boutique clothing store Better Sweater and Spit Licks ice cream shop on the Homer spit. This year, she’s closing up earlier than usual.
“It was great," she said. "I sold out everything, almost.”
It’s hard to say for sure if Mukambetova’s successful season was the common experience of other business owners. Revenue data from tourism-related industries during the peak summer season on the Kenai Peninsula isn’t available yet.
But there are some hints as to how this summer compares to previous years. Jan Knutson manages the visiting side of the Homer Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. She said the number of visitors coming to the center from May to August grew. Last year that number was at about 10,500.
“So we're seeing close to a thousand more just coming in here,” she said. “Some days we've had over a hundred-- highest was 212 visitors physically coming in.”
Knutson says she’s seen a steady increase of tourists ever since she started working at the chamber four years ago.
“Homer has truly been discovered as a travel destination,” she said. “Alaska Business Monthly last year picked three communities in terms of being the best travel destination. Homer was number one.”
Knutson adds that more people are booking destination weddings in Homer. The chamber added marketing of Homer as a destination wedding to a long list of marketing campaigns last October. Reality TV shows, such as Alaska: The Last Frontier are also bringing more people to the area.
And more and more, tourists are coming here in RVs.
“There was one point in a mid-June when every single RV park here in Homer was filled,” Knutson said.
Knutson said this was also a banner year for bear viewing in the Homer area. That fits with the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council findings on visitor activities. Summer Lazenby is the executive director of the council and she said wildlife viewing is the most popular activity on the peninsula.
“It would include bear viewing, whale watching trips,” she said. “It would include the caribou that are often times just outside Kenai.”
Lazebeny said she was pleasantly surprised that sales tax revenue from tourism-related industries in April-June went up roughly three percent from the same time last year both in Homer and in the Kenai Peninsula borough overall.
Lazenby says those number would usually indicate a similar upswing in sales tax revenue in July-September. But this year’s bad fishing season makes her unsure. The season was especially bad in the Kenai area.
Still, many fishing charters in the Homer area say this season lagged behind last summer. Owner of Bob’s Trophy Charters, Todd Strand, said the wet weather and the fishing regulations hurt his business.
“Unfortunately in the month of July and in the first two weeks of August, we weren't able to fish for halibut on Tuesdays or Wednesdays and that has just a real, real big impact on our business,” he said.
This year, there were a few more days that charters couldn’t fish on halibut than last year. On those days they would go out for rockfish or salmon. But that wasn’t ideal.
“I would say the majority of the people that come to Homer, they want to go out fishing and they want to go out and catch a halibut,” he said.
Strand is already booking for next year, and he’s hoping for a better fishing season and lighter regulations.