Centennial Hall, left, and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Centennial Hall, left, and the Juneau Arts and Culture Center on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)

Opinion: This is the summer for FITS

We’re seeing glimmers of hope.

  • Tuesday, March 30, 2021 11:49am
  • Opinion

By Liz Perry

The solid work that the City and Borough of Juneau has put into curbing COVID cases and offering vaccines places Juneau, as a destination, in an enviable spot, and Travel Juneau’s marketing to invite and encourage fully independent travelers, or FITS, is critical to our community’s economic recovery. We’re busy getting the message out that, this summer, independent travelers have an incredible opportunity to experience Juneau and Southeast Alaska. Juneau is the safe destination that our FITs are looking for.

Juneauites are now speaking the language of the visitor industry. While I was enjoying lunch at a local eatery a few days ago, the server asked, “Will we see more FITs this summer?” This demonstrates the impact the visitor industry has on Juneau’s economy and that the 2021 season weighs on our minds. The value of visitors to our community is undeniable: aside from revenue generated in sales tax, hotel bed tax, and property tax, industry businesses support local youth and service organizations, sports teams, and much more. The old story of “all tourist businesses pack up after the season and take all their money down south” is just that — a misinformed story.

Since its inception 35 years ago as Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau, Travel Juneau’s mission has been to market only to fully independent travelers, groups, and meetings. Last summer we saw a few visitors, and this summer, armed with more information and what appear to be effective vaccines, Travel Juneau is giving our community yet another shot in the arm.

Considering the community’s high vaccination rate and low case rates, Travel Juneau has launched multiple campaigns for next three months to encourage FITs to select Juneau as a safe summer travel destination. Our Juneau Cares program, funded with a grant from the City and Borough of Juneau, continues to have traction, and our new efforts focus on several strategic markets, taking advantage of all our social media platforms and other marketing avenues. We’re also developing the 2021 Juneau Solstice Sale, aimed at supporting our partner businesses and providing locals a way to secure excursions, retail items, and more. Further, meeting planners are showing renewed interest in Juneau because of its remoteness but easy access from Seattle — more good news for Centennial Hall, local caterers and hoteliers.

With the increased availability of vaccines nationwide, earlier national levels of concern about travel are declining, with more destinations declaring they’re open for business. On March 22, Dan Blanchard of UnCruise Adventures hosted a press conference with Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Mayor Beth Weldon, noting that Alaska is open for visitors. Longwoods International just announced the results of a survey indicating that 87% of American travelers have travel plans in the next six months and are looking for destinations that have masking requirements and safety protocols in place.

As our partners assess start-up costs and the risks of opening, we’re waiting to learn which Juneau visitor businesses will be able to open for the season. Travel Juneau is tracking this information, which can be found on our website, traveljuneau.com/juneaucares. We’re seeing glimmers of hope as hoteliers and lodge owners report fairly brisk bookings, our website engagement is up, and the volume of visitor calls and inquiries into Travel Juneau has grown significantly over the last six weeks, all indicating intent to travel to Juneau.

As a community, we should be optimistic at this news. Know that Travel Juneau, faithful to its mission, is actively encouraging FIT visits and future meetings business, bringing economic recovery to our town. Let’s work together to re-open our neighbors’ visitor industry businesses and start revitalizing our economy.

• Liz Perry is president and CEO of Travel Juneau. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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