The peninsula’s tourism gurus have doubled down on the Kenai’s reputation as “Alaska’s playground” in the face of mass cancellations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic last summer. Looking ahead, they’re optimistic about what this season may hold.
During a presentation to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly during their March 2 meeting, Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council Executive Director Debbie Speakman said the peninsula will focus on recovery heading into 2021.
Speakman called 2020 “the year that almost wasn’t” and said that they realized the Kenai’s summer tourism season would be impacted by around February.
“For the first time ever, we sold the peninsula to peninsula residents,” Speakman said. “We asked them to enjoy their own backyards and, most importantly, support local businesses.”
The council partnered with statewide destination marketing and management organizations to create campaigns that starred Alaskans and encouraged people to travel in their own community or to neighboring communities on the peninsula.
Posters featuring iconic Alaska images like moose and skis promoted catchy phrases like “Alaskans stand together 6 feet apart” and “Please wear a mask” were the product of a unified marketing campaign specifically designed for Alaskans.
Peninsula businesses faced mass cancellations in the summer of 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic while they were already coming off a season of cancellations due to 2019’s Swan Lake Fire.
Speakman said that leisure and hospitality lost more jobs than any other sector in Alaska in 2020, and that the impact of two lost tourism seasons on the peninsula will mean a net loss in jobs despite 2021 gains and the loss of businesses who were unable to survive. Full recovery, she said, will be a yearslong process.
Even so, Speakman said they are “optimistic” about tourism this season and anticipate they will be more popular than usual when travel resumes. Events they are already looking forward to in 2021 include the 10th Annual Taste of the Kenai, which is scheduled for August 28 and Taste of the Kenai: Homer Edition, which is scheduled for June 5.
More information about efforts to promote tourism on the Kenai and about the Tourism Marketing Council can be found at kenaipeninsula.org.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at email@example.com.