In a quiet summer for Alaska tourism, businesses get creative

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In Juneau, Cares Act funds supported the development of a Covid-19 Conservation Corps, which hires furloughed, underemployed and unemployed individuals for trail construction and maintenance projects.
In Juneau, Cares Act funds supported the development of a Covid-19 Conservation Corps, which hires furloughed, underemployed and unemployed individuals for trail construction and maintenance projects. Photo Credit: State of Alaska/Brian Adams
Renee Brincks
Renee Brincks

With major cruise itineraries on hold and inbound visitors subject to Covid-19 testing protocols and quarantines, Alaska businesses are taking creative steps to generate business, update facilities and support their communities during this unpredictable summer.

In Juneau, for example, Cares Act funds supported the development of a Covid-19 Conservation Corps. The initiative hires furloughed, underemployed and unemployed individuals for trail construction and maintenance projects. Eaglecrest Ski Area, Juneau's parks and recreation department and local nonprofit Trail Mix have teamed up to lead the campaign, which will continue through mid-October.

Juneau Food Tours owner Midgi Moore has expanded her menu, launching private tours for the 2020 season and introducing culinary subscription boxes that spotlight recipes and food sourced from Juneau-area businesses. 

Moore is also looking ahead to next year.

"My biggest focus is building stronger relationships with travel advisors, as they plan trips for their clients in 2021," she said by email in mid-July. "We have several family reunions and gatherings that we are hosting. We are partnering with other experiences such as whale-watching, sport fishing, a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier, etc., so that we can put together packages for travel advisors to offer their clients."

In the Southeast Alaska community of Skagway, Skagway Brewing trimmed its menu and redirected staff to support Friday- and Saturday-evening curbside and delivery options. The brewpub has also positioned tables outside its downtown facility and welcomed a live band to the building's second-floor deck.

"We closed off the street, had a beer garden with tables 10 feet apart, offered a special menu, and served it through open windows," said Rebecca Hylton, Skagway Brewing's marketing and tour director. "It was so successful that we have scheduled three more nights just like this."

The Roaming Root Mobile Market in Fairbanks transitioned from public sales to personal deliveries during the pandemic's early days. Owner Erica Moeller sells fresh produce and food items by area purveyors from a vintage bus outfitted with display shelves.

Now, Moeller is again popping up around the Golden Heart City, supplying residents and visitors with vegetables, berries, breads, roasted sunflower seeds, oatmeal, mussels and other culinary goods.

The Municipality of Anchorage and the Anchorage Downtown Partnership have teamed up on Open Streets ANC, which closed select downtown blocks to vehicle traffic and set up distanced picnic tables for public use. State regulators eased rules pertaining to alcohol sales, allowing local restaurants and bars to sell sealed servings of to-go beer and wine, as well.

A few minutes from downtown Anchorage, Sullivan Arena was converted to a temporary shelter for unhoused Alaskans. Hospitality groups delivered meals to the shelter; local hotels donated single-use toiletries for those in need.

In the Matanuska-Susitna Valley north of Anchorage, the Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau has turned its focus to the local and in-state tourism markets. Weekend campground business has been brisk, according to bureau representative Casey Ressler, and the area's state parks are recording solid visitor numbers.

Helping local businesses navigate this year's drop in out-of-state tourism traffic is another Mat-Su CVB priority.

"We've been building partnerships not only with our members, but also strengthening relationships with others -- we've been a part of the economic recovery group for the Mat-Su Borough, we've been very involved with local chambers of commerce, and we've served as a conduit between our members and the Alaska Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Administration on some of the grant applications and funding opportunities," Ressler said. "We've been hosting a series of webinars for members, including safety protocols for reopening and grant opportunities. It's more outreach than we've ever done before."

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