CIRI Alaska Tourism Corp. (CATC) produced a record season for the second straight year, despite a lack of growth in overall Alaska visitor traffic. The wholly owned CIRI subsidiary capitalized on strong performances from its lodges, increased passenger traffic from its cruise businesses and improvements in its booking processes.
“Our team has focused on consistently delivering a great experience for our guests and finding ways to improve our operations,” said Scott Torrison, CATC chief operating officer. “CATC is in great shape considering the stagnant market we’re in right now.”
CATC’s lodges – the Seward Windsong Lodge in Seward, the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge in Talkeetna, and the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge on Fox Island – continue a strong three-year trend, with combined lodging income growing 63.8 percent from 2006 through 2008.
Several factors contributed to this growth. The Windsong lodge consistently maintained high occupancy levels, including the additional 36 rooms added on last spring. Holland America cruise passengers ranked the Windsong first for guest experience for lodging in Seward. All three properties continued to improve
their average daily revenue per room, primarily by creating and marketing deluxe rooms at a higher price.
Guests of the three CATC properties rank their experience, on average, a four, on a scale from one to five, with five being the highest.
“We’re striving to not only be profitable, but offer a great guest experience,” said Sharlene Berg, CATC director of lodging operations. “This is not possible without a great group of employees that practice customer-first relations, and our staff definitely walks the talk there.”
Although CATC’s day cruise companies Kenai Fjords Tours (KFT) and Prince William Sound Glacier Cruises (PWS), like other transportation-based businesses, struggled with soaring fuel costs, KFT’s new catamaran helped offset the increases. The catamaran Aialik Voyager uses 43 percent less fuel than the older boats in KFT’s fleet. KFT will bring a second catamaran online for the 2009 season.
KFT carried more than 100,000 passengers on its day cruises in 2008, the most passengers it has carried in a single season.
CATC shifted its marketing strategy to be more Internet-based, resulting in growing online sales in 2007 and 2008. As part of this strategy, CATC has reduced its traditional print, television and radio advertising, focusing instead on online advertising and promotions. This has cut costs and helped effectively reach CATC’s target markets.
CATC was selected fourth in the Alaska Journal of Commerce’s “Top 10 Best Places to Work in Alaska 2008.” The publication presented CATC with the award in an Oct. 10 ceremony and featured CATC in its Oct. 12, 2008 issue.
Although CATC has just had two record years, the company is being cautious about expectations for 2009.With the country in a recession and financial markets in turmoil, CATC is unable to predict the effect this will have on visitor traffic next spring and is making contingency plans should the Alaska tourism market experience a downturn.