Chena Hot Springs creative commons license

Staff at Chena Hot Springs Resort will be screening all guests at the gate and screening all employees at the start of each shift. Enrico Blasutto/Creative commons license

Various businesses within Fairbanks’ tourism sector are reopening this week, many with capacity restrictions and precautionary public health measures. With the prospect of limited numbers of tourists, some businesses are hoping to tempt locals to take advantage of destinations in their backyard.

Among those reopening this Memorial Day weekend is Chena Hot Springs Resort, which will open its doors at 9 a.m Friday following a two-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are not opening full capacity. We’re having a soft opening, which is 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.,” said Javier Villasenor-Gaona, director of advertising, marketing and sales for the resort.

Villasenor-Gaona explained that travel restrictions have left the resort without all the employees it needs for its usual hours of operation. He added that management is struggling to predict how much traffic to expect.

All facilities will be available for use, including the pool and restaurant, with dining outdoors. Villasenor-Gaona said guests are being asked to bring their own masks to wear and will be encouraged to change into their swimwear prior to arrival in order to limit foot traffic in locker rooms.

The resort will also be screening all people entering at the resort’s gate. Villasenor-Gaona said this will involve guests answering questions about health and travel, and some may have their temperature taken. The resort will also be monitoring its employees’ health regularly. All of this is subject to change, and Villasenor-Gaona said that the resort’s capacity may be restricted if necessary.

“We may have to shift a lot of things,” he said. “Like maybe we need to have a certain time when we stop people. We just don’t know how many people will be coming.”

Among the other businesses reopening this week is Arctic Getaway Cabin & Breakfast, Aurora Pointe Activity Center, and Canoe Alaska. All businesses are encouraging physical distancing, and most are requiring employees to wear masks and are only opening with limited capacity.

Despite the lack of tourists and out-of-state visitors, Villasenor-Gaona was optimistic for Chena Hot Springs Resort’s opening. He noted that Memorial Day weekend is one of the busiest weekends of the summer and said that, even if not that many rooms are booked out, the resort is anticipating a lot of campers. Like a number of other businesses, the resort is hoping local residents will fill the gap left by out-of-state visitors.

“We’re excited. We’re opening like how we started 105 years ago — only locals,” he said. “We’re excited to be open for the local community and to be a space where they can get away and forget about what’s going on for a while.”

Meanwhile, many businesses at Denali National Park are starting to reopen for the season, knowing thousands of cruise passengers will not be visiting this year. Many are hoping Alaskans will decide to travel to the Denali area.

The governor’s easing of restrictions on businesses may not make a big difference for Denali businesses.

“I’m not sure it’s going to change things because of the fact so much of the damage has already been done,” said Vanessa Jusczak, director of the Denali Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center. “It’s great news that restaurants can now have full capacity. Still, the extra cleaning protocols are in place, some social distancing where possible — that combined with the fact that so many people have already cancelled their vacations here.”

But the businesses that are opening hope Alaskans will take the opportunity to visit this season. Some are even offering special rates or deals, hoping to encourage locals to avoid the usual crowds of tourists. McKinley Creekside Cabins, for example, is offering a “Resident Special” of 50% off if booking at least two nights before May 31. More specials are listed on the Denali Chamber of Commerce web page here:

This is the exact sentiment that Explore Fairbanks is hoping to inspire with its upcoming marketing campaign, Explore Local, which will launch Tuesday.

Explore Fairbanks President and CEO Deb Hickok said in April that one of the major losses for the tourism sector this year is the cancellation of cruise land tours, which are responsible for bringing some 41% of summer visitors to Fairbanks. Explore Fairbanks is now looking to target domestic travelers to make up numbers.

“Our recovery marketing plan is in place,” Hickok said this week. “Our first stage is Explore Local.”

Beginning Tuesday a marketing campaign involving digital, broadcast and print advertising will encourage Fairbanks residents to check out what their local area has to offer.

“We’ve always done local campaigns,” Hickok said. “We do the Magic Days of Summer, which is a local promotion. When we have direct flights from airlines, we do a lot of local promotions and giveaways around that. So it’s not unusual, but this year we’re amplifying it.

“We’re doing a series of really short videos with people from the industry talking about outdoor recreation, museum and cultural experiences, in your own backyard. We’ll be using that in a variety of media,” Hickok added.

Hickok said she’s also heard that some cruise lines are considering summer operations.

“There is some optimism that, with their protocols in place and some travel restrictions possibly easing, that we could see some cruise travelers in midsummer, maybe around August,” she said.

Contact staff writer Alistair Gardiner at 459-7575. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors.