SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska
Column - Commentary

The Summer Industry is back, with a 'license.'


October 17, 2022


Ketchikan, Alaska - A lot of folks seem concerned about whether or not, the tourism industry came back or not.

Even more than the number of people who are concerned about whether or not I will ever NOT end a sentence with the word's "or not."

Anyway, I am getting a lot of questions (or not).

Are the visitor numbers up? Did we have an okay season (not that it is quite over yet)?

Well, not like 2019 when Ketchikan hosted 1.6 trillion visitors in its Grand Canyon sized downtown.

What, you say I am exaggerating? I think not. The second week of June, 2019, I stopped my car to let someone cross Stedman Street. I didn't get moving again until October 3rd.

So, in real numbers we are not back to 2019 levels yet. But compared to 2020, when the visitation was basically zero, things were indeed up a tad in 2022.

And there is always a second question.

Are the visitors spending as much? 

Well, not really, but that isn't really COVID's fault. Let's just say that when you are filling empty staterooms with people who cobble together $300 from their couch cushions, you are not getting many of the high rollers.

A few weeks ago, someone asked me about where to "see whales."

"The ship casino," I helpfully suggested..

The humor was lost on that boat person.

Of course, I did dig deeper than the numbers to bring you the straight scoop.

Numbers are only numbers. Just like lies, damned lies and statistics.

Naturally, I have a fool-proof method of determining whether it is a good summer season or not and it has very little to with the size of the ships and the huge (or not) number of disembarkees (i like disembarkers better).

I can determine the robustness off the season just by looking at license plates.

If I see a lot of different ones, I can tell that the ferries and the barges are running and the off-island jewelers and other summer crew have returned. 

So far, this year I have seen 49 of the 50 states and all four of the so-called "Four and Far Between." I have never seen ALL of the "Infrequent Four" (Rhode Island, Delaware, North Dakota, and West Virginia" in a single year, before.

That is a major difference from the summers of 2020 and 2021 when the only exotic license plates I saw in town were "South Tongass" plates and "Pond Reef" plates.

I can you see you are a little perplexed. You thought that everyone in Alaska had the same plate, more or less. Au Contrere, mon frere!
Alaska has more going in license plates than just "bear" versus "Klondike" or "Daughters of the Alaskan Revolution" versus "The Loyal Order of Oosiks"" specialty plates. 

Actually, I made those last two up, but for a minute you went along with it.

Seriously, if you pay close attention to license plates, and I do. You can spot regional plates. LIke South Tongass and Pond Reef.

So, what is a "South Tongass" license plate you ask? I'm so glad you did.

A South Tongass plate has little wisps of palm fronds stuck to it because anything "south" is warmer in these here parts. And "South Tongass" is south of Ketchikan proper, until it gets to Mountain Point and veers suddenly north until it is northeast of Ketchikan.

But I digress.

A Pond Reef license plate is also easy to spot because the last time the car owner put an expiration sticker on it was 2003 because, well, because, "Government." 

But I digress, again.

Anyway, this year, The Year of Our Lord 2022, the variety of license plates is back to normal, so therefore the summer ""season must be normal.

Actually, it is slightly better than normal.

In an average year I spot between 45 and 48 out of state plates as I play "License Plate Bingo." This year I am at 49. Which means that I am driving around, peering desperately through the rainy windshield looking for a Missouri plate.

Which is weird because I usually see a MIssouri Plate (blue, white, green "Show Me State") fairly early in the year. This year, of course, I haven't. And it could leave me one short of completing something i have never done in my decade of license plate bingo, run the entire field.

And if I don't, then sure as salus populi suprema lex esto, I will see a Missouri plate on January 1 and it won't count for this year.

Meanwhile,, I continue to see multiple examples of the Infrequent Four, which is clearly just "Automobius" (God of Traffic and Parking) taunting me.

Speaking of which last week I ran into (not literally) a nice couple from Joplin, Missouri, who were enjoying the fall "wetter" in Our Fair Salmon City.  That was clearly another taunt from up above. They did not have their Missouri-plated car with them.


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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.

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