As the nation’s vaccination rate improves, independent travelers could begin to make their way into town this summer, creating economic opportunities for Sitka’s hard-hit visitor industry. (KCAW/Berett Wilber)

With uncertainty lingering as the 2021 tourist season approaches, Visit Sitka presented its marketing plan and budget to the assembly in a work session on Tuesday night. The plan focuses on some bright spots for the 2021 season, and projects a tourism boom in 2022.

The Visitor Enhancement Fund was created in 2015, with money from the transient lodging tax.  It’s the primary source of city funding for Visit Sitka, but the coronavirus pandemic has hit the fund hard. So their budget is smaller for next fiscal year. 

“Looking at the reduction in revenues, and also looking at what we’re anticipating for the growth of our visitor industry and the amount of services that are needed to support that industry coming, this is a reduction of 22 percent over last year’s funding,” said Rachel Roy. Roy is the Executive Director of the Sitka Chamber of Commerce which oversees Visit Sitka.

Roy said even with the big reduction in tourism last year, Visit Sitka was busy creating lots of promotional materials and marketing to people “dreaming” of Alaska vacations. While it’s unlikely tourism in Southeast will fully recover this year, with Canada’s cruise ship ban extended through the beginning of 2022, some small, luxury cruises are coming back this summer, along with an anticipated increase in domestic travel.

Visit Sitka Director Laurie Booyse said that this year, they’re focusing marketing efforts on travelers who can reach Sitka easily.

“With our digital advertising, once again we want to keep on reaching out to those people who would be the decision makers who would be able to easily come and visit here. I think that what we’re going to see–as people come back to traveling–they’re going to travel,” she said. “Everyone says they’re going to travel, but they are probably going to make what they consider safer travel choices. So we probably won’t be seeing a lot of people from Florida, or Georgia, or New York.”

She said Sitka will, however, see travelers from the Pacific Northwest. And she’s working to bring independent travelers here this summer, too. 

“We’ve developed a campaign for showing people just how easy it is to get here. Now that we’re moving back into the summer season, Delta is coming back. Alaska Airlines has added the 70s back- flight number 70s are coming back into town,” she said. “We want to show people that they can take a flight to Seattle, and then they’re directly here.”

Visit Sitka’s preliminary budget is around $450,000 dollars for next fiscal year. By next summer, the organization projects Sitka’s tourism industry will see a big boost with the return of large cruise ships. They expect upwards of 400,000 cruise passengers, an 87 percent increase from cruise traffic in 2019.