Southeast Cluster Initiative: Visitor Products
Cluster Chair: Kirby Day, Princess Cruises
Southeast Alaska Visitor Products Action Initiatives
1. Develop Land and Water Trails and Support Facilities
Champion: Jeremy Gieser, Gastineau Guiding
The goal of this initiative is to develop and maintain a safe, accessible and diverse land and water trail system that allows for optimum outdoor recreational use of the region by residents and visitors, promotes increased visitation to local communities, and provides opportunities for entrepreneurs to cooperate in developing regional commercial trail packages, while protecting the region’s natural and cultural resources. In 2012, the group held a regional trails teleconference on 3/16/12 with participation from the business community, the USFS, NPS, Sitka and Juneau non-profit environmental and trail building organizations, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, the State of Alaska Division of Community and Economic Development, and regional economic development organizations. This teleconference was the first sharing of information between trail groups in the region. Interest was high in coordinating trail development and promotion on a regional level. The initiative team next convened a group of industry entrepreneurs to get input on challenges to commercial trail development and use and to generate ideas for land and water trail-based commercial products and packages. Infrastructure needs, regulation issues and marketing needs were identified as next steps to tackle. The group will be meeting with the forest service in 2013 to explore ideas for infrastructure development on Wilderness boundaries. The group will continue to work together to develop coordinated packages that tie community trail opportunities with lodging, equipment rental and transportation. The group will reach out to Sitka and Ketchikan for developing regional itineraries. As an indirect outcome of this initiative, the non-profit SEATrails has revised its organizational mission from funding trail infrastructure to developing and promoting a comprehensive and interactive regional trail information web portal.
2. Increase Guided Access to Land
Champion: John McConnochie, Cycle Alaska
Agency permitting processes are limiting economic opportunity in the tourism industry in the Tongass National Forest and other public lands. Demand exceeds permitted access levels. This initiative addresses the lack of permitting flexibility to make quick changes in response to market conditions. The outcome will be more adaptive management, a more micro managed approach, and more access to public lands and to existing areas to increase capacity. The success of this initiative in 2012 was the allocation of 15,400 additional temporary commercial use service days at the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area (MGRA) for the summer of 2012. Although the additional time was off peak, the increase worked well for commercial operators. As no significant complaints were received from operators, visitors or local residents, the Juneau Ranger District will continue this pilot project for another year. Another outcome of this initiative has been the identification of a timing discrepancy between USFS allocation decisions and private industry commitments to the cruise ship season, which is in the process of being reviewed and addressed going forward. In 2013, the activities of the initiative team will shift to working with the Forest Service to update the MGRA Master Plan in order to formalize an increase in commercial use service days allocations.
3. Promote Multi-Community and Regional Visitor Packages
There needs to be a one-stop place for information for the independent tourist to figure out how to design a multi-community itinerary for the region. This initiative will seek continued opportunities for collaboration to create and market new multi-community itineraries for the independent traveler. This initiative also will promote more multi-community, regional visitor itineraries through better marketing and promotion of these opportunities. To initiate discussions on regional collaboration between communities, in 2012 JEDC held informational sessions in Ketchikan, Wrangell and Sitka to introduce these communities to the Southeast Cluster Initiative. This initiative is currently on hold because there are many synergies with the trails development initiative, and that group will look at combining with this initiative in 2013.
4. Strengthen Accountability for Tongass Recreation Fees
Champion: Bob Janes, Gastineau Guiding
This initiative addresses the development of a mechanism for more private sector input to decide where recreation fees are allocated. The industry will work with the Forest Service to establish more affordable access and /or local control of fee structure and more accountability. More revenues from users will be reflected locally on user benefits as a portion of the revenue collected will be secured to improve local infrastructure and enterprise support. As a direct success of this initiative in 2012, the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area received reinstated funding of $57,000 and additional trail maintenance funding of $79,000. The fee allocation formula has been shifted to put more money into enhancement and less into planning and administration. Also as a direct result of this initiative, the Forest Service created a new regional recreation fee information web page. This page contains some background on the recreation fee program, accomplishment reports and links to additional recreation fee information. In addition, this is the first year that outfitter/guides and tourism companies were invited to the Tongass Fee Board meeting in an organized fashion. Group members attended the fee board meeting on November 5, 2012. As a result of the meeting and recommendations that came down from the Tongass Fee Board regarding fee allocation, in 2013 this initiative group will work with the Juneau Ranger district to provide input on how those fee dollars might be allocated within the local area. For the coming year the group will also work with the Forest Service to improve public notification for the 2013 fee board meeting in order to get other communities involved. Continuation of Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act is vital to the industry and will continue to be monitored.
5. Integrate Tourism Courses with University of Alaska Southeast Existing Degree Programs
Champion: Kelli Grummett, Alaska Travel Adventures
This initiative has the dual role to create more employment and educational opportunities for Alaskans and to provide an opportunity for UAS to attract and retain quality four year students. The benefit will be more prepared managers and guides to showcase the Tongass and other Southeast Alaska attractions while providing a world-class educational opportunity at UAS. The initiative will produce a more qualified and larger group of local applicants for entry level as well as management level positions in tourism. In 2012, initiative team and University of Alaska Southeast dialogue to develop tourism management coursework resulted in a new four year Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree with an emphasis in Outdoor and Adventure Studies. The initiative team is now working with the School of Management toward adding a two year Tourism Emphasis area to the Associate of Applied Science degree program. UAS and the team developed a survey to determine level of interest among visitor industry summer employees. An initial survey was given to summer employees in August 2012. Based on these results, the survey has been revised and will be given to job applicants during the winter of 2013. In addition, discussions are underway to change the semester start and end dates to run from early October to the end of April, to accommodate the summer tourism work season. As an indirect outcome of this initiative, UAS and the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center have jointly developed an Environmental Interpretation class. Students in the class will design an interpretive product related to the Mendenhall Glacier area.
6. Draft Action Initiatives under development
Ketchikan began the process of initiative development at a workshop held there on 4/10/2012. At this meeting three potential initiatives were proposed. In 2013, Ketchikan initiative development teams will work with Visitor Products cluster mentors with a goal of either launching one or more of the initiatives, or incorporating them as action steps into existing initiatives.
Changing Local Perceptions on the Value of Tourism (Under development)
This effort will raise public awareness of the value of tourism through a PR campaign.
Marketing Uniqueness of the Southeast Region (Under development)
This initiative will support SATC’s efforts to attract independent travelers to the region.
Transportation Packages and Partnerships to Reduce Cost (Under development)
This initiative will look at ways to make travel to the region and within the region more affordable to independent tourists.