Bristol Bay tourism ideas floated in International Tourism Exchange
East Asia met Southwest Alaska when representatives from Japan and Taiwan exchanged gifts with leaders from the Bristol Bay Native Association, the Bristol Bay Borough, and the Bristol Bay Chamber of Commerce last month at the International Tourism Exchange held at the Naknek Native Village Council.
Roughly 50 Naknek/King Salmon community members including a cross section of youth, elders and business owners watched as Hiroyuki Matsuura from Osaka, Japan presented a wall hanging by a Japanese artist. The depiction of different ways of looking at Mt. Fuji was a symbol of the need to do the same with tourism in Southwest Alaska.
Southwest Alaska sees about 4 percent of the State's total visitors, cited Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who spoke through the phone line to the assembled listeners.
"Some innovative thinking about how to market the fishing industry is needed," Murkowski stated. "This is your chance to look at what type of tourists you want to attract to the region."
Spearheading the Bristol Bay Regional Vision, Norman N. Anderson, Economic Development Program Manager at the Bristol Bay Native Association, has spent the last several years seeking innovative input from the 31 communities of the Bristol Bay area, traveling to each village twice.
"We're working with villages where we're seeing schools close down, air transportation costs increase, fuel prices go up," Anderson stated to emphasize the economic need for tourism development. He discovered that people did want tourism and Anderson strives to help villages come up with a development plan.
"We not only want to attract everyone from Nebraska or Chickamauga, but from the international market as well," Anderson said of the motivation to reach out to people so far away. "We have similar heritage. We have similar beliefs. We can develop sister cities with Taiwan and Japan so that they have a direct connection with our villages and we with theirs."
It's one thing to attract visitors to Alaska, but another to interest them in remote areas.
"What is something that can get people who visit Alaska beyond Anchorage and Fairbanks? How do you get them to take the next step?" challenged Tony Nakazawa,
Economic Development Specialist with the Cooperative Extension at the University of Alaska.
Nakazawa thinks he might have the answer. He is working with National Geographic to put together a Geotourism plan for Alaska.
"We are trying to work with gateway communities. Because of their placement they have something they want to preserve or share with the world," Nakazawa stated, referencing Katmai National Park and the Kenai Fjords as such places to preserve and share.
"Geotourism is about the community being more involved and engaged in the tourism... using old skills in different ways and marketing to new audiences," Nakazawa said.
Nakazawa also noted that there is a close relationship between the environment and tourism. It's important to "manage tourism so that it pays to protect the place, not destroy it."
Osaka Professor Hiroyuki Matsuura stressed that "we need some system to keep the environment in Alaska for the next generation."
Visitors to King Salmon have a tendency to come in, see the bears or go on a guided fishing tour, and then leave, often without staying for one night.
In the Naknek/King Salmon area, bird guiding and 4-wheeler tours were noted as untapped opportunities to attract tourists in ways that engage them with the community.
Originally from Taiwan, Hsueh-Ming Wang, Chair of the Engineering Science Management Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage stressed that it is important to attract people and make them want to return.
"We want people to go and come back again," Wang said.
The Bristol Bay area has had ties with Asia for many years, largely due to the canneries.
Bristol Bay Borough Mayor Dan O'Hara remembers when a fleet came in from Asia to work in the salted salmon industry.
"As a boy in 1952, I remember seeing all these sailboats coming in," O'Hara said.
Many years earlier, a Japanese fleet entered the Bristol Bay and was amazed by the big flashes in the water. Those flashes became a fish harvest they returned to year after year.
"There is nothing in the world like the sockeye fishery of Bristol Bay. Naknek is the sockeye capital of the world," O'Hara stated to applause from those assembled.
There is much organization and planning to be done, organizers agreed, but with the help of new friends from across the ocean and the support of state and local leaders, the Bristol Bay area is moving forward with tourism development.