Updated: Aug 9
Alaska is in the midst of enjoying a spectacular summer and domestic tourism in the state is booming. Cruise ships have returned and the Southeast Conference expects 1.5 million passengers will visit popular Alaska destinations like Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway, Glacier Bay National Park, Sitka, and Haines. Tourists come to Alaska looking for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and want to spend money on outings and experiences. Alaska has a strong tourism sector but it took Ketchikan-based charter boat captain and entrepreneur Jack Finnegan to point out Alaskans are missing important customers, people with disabilities.
As someone who works in both the disability nonprofit sector as well as tour boat captain, Jack is well placed to see what others have missed. In an April 2022 Health TIE article he wrote:
An estimated 1 in 4 Americans contend with some form of disability, and Alaskans are no exception. An estimated 1300 residents of Ketchikan are impacted by disabilities, as are more than a thousand people in communities on neighboring Annette Island and Prince of Wales. For the million-plus people who travel to Ketchikan in a typical cruise ship season, more than 60 thousand people must factor disabilities into their travel plans; of these, more than 8 thousand require the use of assistive devices like wheelchairs or scooters for mobility.
Fishability, Jack’s business, is working on building a universally accessible ADA-compliant vessel that will be able to accommodate wider and heavier electric wheelchairs that will be locked into place for safety once the trip is underway. The boat will also have a double-wide door at the side as well as a bow loader so that passengers can be dropped off on the shoreline.
With safety and ongoing Covid-pandemic challenges still making travel especially difficult for people with disabilities, it might take a little bit longer before it rebounds, however, it should be noted that just prior to the 2020 disruptions, a report cited by the Open Doors Organization shows that from 2018-2019 more that 27 million American travelers with disabilities took a total of 81 million trips and spent $58.7 billion. Through developing Fishability, Jack is leading the way for developing a new, untapped, lucrative tourism sector.
Although the special accommodations for those with wheelchairs, walkers, and other mobility devices might be what most people notice first,, Jack wants to make clear that Fishability will welcome anyone with any type of disability, many which aren’t immediately visible. These are also important - and often unrecognized - potential customers, “I want that to become part of the business model, that it’s an accepting, tolerant, welcoming place.” In addition to opening up opportunities for tourists to see more of Alaska, Jack is also planning to also accommodate the needs of Alaskans with disabilities, “Fishability plans to work with regional non-profits, so that our neighbors with disabilities, and our elders, can take full advantage of Southeast Alaska's way of life.”
Jack first developed his business idea as part of Spruce Root’s Path to Prosperity Business Bootcamp in 2021. Since their $25,000 investment, he’s been gathering additional funding, awards, and champions and he works toward building Alaska’s first custom-built tour boat especially for people with disabilities. Jack’s taking a break from the chaotic Ketchikan tourist season and his charter boat responsibilities to update Health TIE on his recent progress and his latest connections and customer discoveries.
Please join Health TIE on July 14th for lively, informal update as well as a general conversation about the importance of accessibility and accommodation.