Bed and breakfasts make most of their income in the summer, housing tourists who come to Kodiak to fish, hunt, kayak, hike and enjoy nature.
However, with tourism arrivals on the island at a virtual standstill because of pandemic-related travel restrictions, bed-and-breakfast owners are facing mounting uncertainties about how long they can continue.
Stephanie Wyszkowski owns Cranky Crow Bed and Breakfast and Puffin Place Vacation Rental. She said business this year is down about 75%.
“We know we have to weather the storm until next year, and the way the talk of everything is going, we could be in this for several years before we see a big change,” she said. “For small businesses that are largely tourist-based, I have a hard time seeing how we can weather the storm for multiple years.”
Wyszkowski also owns Kodiak Car Rentals, which has seen a drop in business of at least 60% this year because of travel cancellations to Kodiak.
In addition to the loss of business, Wyszkowski has incurred additional pandemic-related costs trying to get a vehicle to Kodiak during a time when ferry services have been cancelled due to COVID-19.
Wyszkowski said she was not eligible for the federal relief funding options, but received help from the Small Business Grant program through the Kodiak Economic Development Corporation.
She said she remains hopeful that business will pick up, but she is still receiving cancellations from tourists waiting to see how the COVID-19 pandemic pans out.
The KEDC grant application process was open from June 1 to 9, to any local small business or non-profit that has been impacted by COVID-19. Businesses are slated to receive between $2,500 and $25,000 each.
Wyszkowski’s mother, Bronwyn Owen, owns Goldilocks Bed and Breakfast and said she has lost about 95% of her business this year.
She has decided to sell her house, partly because of the pandemic. After a successful six-year run, this year has been catastrophic — she has no bookings until July, and she expects more cancellations.
“This is all I do for income at this point,” Owen said, adding that she is a “the glass is half full person. It is what it is.”
She tried applying for federal aid, but she said the guidelines were too complicated and the fine print too vague, and she would have needed an accountant to complete the process.
Fortunately, she was eligible for the Small Business Grant program through the KEDC, and has been approved for enough financial aid to pay her bills.
She said she might stay in Kodiak if the situation improves, but she is open to other projects and new ventures.
Another bed and breakfast owner, Lee Robbins of Downtown B&B, said his busy season runs from May through October, and reservations at his business have been canceled through July.
“The quarantine thing just kills us dead. If you have people coming up and have to spend 14 days in quarantine, that's what kills us,” Robbins said.
He hopes that with free testing available in the community and the state’s loosening of travel restrictions, tourists may start coming to Kodiak.
“Absolutely, that will open Kodiak back up,” he said.
Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy lifted the 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers from out of state who show a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of arrival.
Marion Owen owns The Cliff House Bed and Breakfast and runs a wildlife viewing tour company. She said most of her clients canceled in May and June. The bookings she has in July are primarily Alaskans. She has also received queries for September and October from out-of-state tourists.
“What I've learned is that people in general do want to travel, they want to go somewhere, whether it's to their local park or another state, but they are confused,” Owen said about the ever-changing pandemic-related restrictions. “They are getting mixed messages because things are changing all the time.”
Despite losing 95% of her business this summer, Owen remains hopeful.
“It ain't over until October and we will see how it plays out,” she said.