Local Tourism GrowthBy Austin Otos
June 01, 2019
Welcome to the beginning of the 2019 tourist season! This year our community is expected to reach 1.2 million visitors. I was excited to see entrepreneurs start up new local businesses ranging from delicious eateries to adventurous sightseeing tours. These important businesses make up the backbone of our tourist economy and provide excellent service to eager visitors willing to come see our awesome town! Many people see tourism as a healthier and more stable economy than past resource extraction. However, I sense a growing division within the community between “restrictionist” and “expansionist”. The common themes I hear from restrictionists are capping visitors and playing hardball with the cruise ship industry over dock improvements. On the other side, I find expansionists looking to take visitors beyond Ketchikan, working around zoning laws. These two forces have brought up issues over infrastructure such as road and sidewalk improvements, growing the outlying Clam and Herring Cove areas, and the private-public dock partnership.
As someone that works in the tourist industry, specifically hospitality, I see the benefits and downfalls of centering our local economy on tourism. My employment isn’t affected by cruise ship tourists and is focused more on the long-term visitors looking to stay in our unique town a few days. Economically, these types of visitors tend to spend more money at our local shops, restaurants, and bars, which benefits the community more. When it comes to the tourist issue I tend to stick in the middle, avoiding hardline economic barriers like capping visitors or advocating for untamed growth without any management. Don’t get me wrong, I dislike seeing our torn up roads and get irritated dodging the hordes of crowded bodies in the downtown area. However, entrenching oneself in these reactive positions is not beneficial for business owners or helpful for local government planning. A proactive approach would be to form task forces or town hall meetings through our local governments to help manage tourism growth. More importantly, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough plays a vital role in improving our Transportation and Planning Departments by dispersing tourists from the congested downtown area and organizes areas for future development.
Going forward, this reoccurring topic will keep festering in our community and will ultimately dominate the local political scene this election cycle. To resolve this issue, I would like to see more people get involved in our local government by attending important discussions on tourist related topics like infrastructure projects and taxes. Without your input these decisions will be made by a select few in the cruise ship industry who may not have the best interests of the entire community. My hope is that we can find common ground without pushing artificial capping policies or having unplanned economic development.
About: Ketchikan Gateway Borough Resident
Received May 31, 2019 - Published June 01, 2019
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