PUBLISHED: 5:59 PM on Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Businesses see 'price point' in visitor spending
Some Juneau business owners say tourist spending has shifted in 2008
JUNEAU - Amanda Bergmann did not pick an easy year to start a business. When the 23-year-old owner of the Alaskan Crepe Escape first opened shop in May, Juneau was paying over 50 cents a kilowatt-hour for electricity, gas prices across the nation were rising and locals and tourists had good reasons to be thrifty.

"(It was hard) since I'm so small and just getting started and that's how I went into things," Bergmann said. "I still unplug everything all the time and I'm trying to save money."

Katie Spielberger photo
  Tourists sign up for tours in downtown Juneau recently. Local business owners see visitors being especiallycautious in their spending this year, often choosing lower priced sourvenirs and tours.
Although she has rebounded from the month of high electricity costs, Bergmann still feels the effects of the national economy in her sales to tourists.

"I think (tourists) aren't spending as much and being more cautious with what they do spend," she said.

Ann House, owner of clothing boutique Boheme and president of the Downtown Business Association, did not see big changes in her own store during Juneau's energy crisis, but she thinks some downtown businesses are seeing a slack in business due to the national economy.

"I think people are very conscious about where they're spending their money," House said. "There's a price point they're willing to spend. A definite price point."

This price point has also been the deciding factor for some tour operators, according to Lorene Palmer, President and CEO of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau. There has not been a change in the number of visitors arriving in Juneau, but how many have shifted their spending to less expensive tours, activities and souvenirs.

"(This year) is going to have some mixed results from the way people are spending their money, based on the financial change we've had since the beginning of the year," Palmer said. "Some tour operations have had very good growth this year and some had some softenings."

The most expensive excursions and tours are more likely to feel the effects of the economic pressure.

"People aren't giving up their vacations, they're just being more cautious in what they spend," Palmer said.

High fuel prices are likely to affect the way people arrive in Alaska. Palmer predicts that next year cruise ship passenger counts will remain constant but that there will be fewer airline arrivals.

"I think fuel is just a big lynchpin," Palmer said. "It's the thread that holds it all together, whether it's feeding the cruise ships, the airlines... or the ferries."

Juneau residents are also changing their spending habits. House noted one bright side to high fuel costs. Some downtown businesses see a boost from downtown residents who now choose to shop closer to their homes.

"I think a lot of people are more organized in what they do today," House said. "There's a conscious effort to plan travel."