Visitors up 2 percent in 2011, still off 2007 peak numbers
More folks are dropping by Alaska these days, albeit only slightly more.
The Alaska Visitors Statistics Program released its study for summer 2011 and found that an estimated 1.56 million out-of-state passengers came here from May 1 through Sept. 30, 2011. This is a 2 percent increase over this time period in 2010 but is still 9 percent below the peak in 2007.
Of those visitors, 56 percent were cruise passengers while almost 39 percent came in by air travel. The rest entered by highway or ferry.
While here, those visitors spent an estimated $1.5 billion.
However, the total visitation is down slightly from the last statistics study in 2006. Also, the passenger traveling by air went up 3 percent while those in cruises, ferries and highways went slightly down.
In a statement, Susan Bell, commissioner for the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development, said, “This turning point is especially welcomed by Alaska communities and businesses that experienced several consecutive years of decline.”
This dip from 2006 is overall but doesn’t apply to each destination. Julie Saupe, president and CEO of Visit Anchorage, said visits in Anchorage have gone up just slightly since 2006. There was an 18 percent dip in bed taxes in 2009, which Saupe said was due to the recession.
“So we’re just happy to be seeing growth,” she said.
Saupe said this growth has been partially helped by increased marketing funds from the state over the last few years.
“It’s a very competitive industry and getting our message to visitors is always very helpful,” she said.
Southeast Alaska was the most popular destination with 68 percent of the visitors due to the cruise industry. However, that cruise industry eliminates overnight stays, which dropped the overnight visitation numbers by 10 percent. Juneau remained the most visited destination.
The Interior received 33 percent of visitors. Southwest and the far north got 4 percent and 2 percent, respectively. These numbers have changed little since the last survey in 2006.
Satisfaction with Alaska visits was overwhelmingly positive. Only 2 percent of visitors reported negative feelings.
Saupe remarked that another nice trend is that the average age for travelers went down slightly since 2006. That average age is 50.7, and the 55 to 64 age range taking the largest section at 28 percent. Saupe said working on attracting younger visitors remains important since Alaska is an activity-based destination.
Due to increased data sets, the report contains greater details about international travelers than past reports. It states 7 percent of visitors were Canadian and another 10 percent were from other countries. This surprised Saupe, who expected the international visitor base to be larger.
Saupe believe tourism will continue to go up, even if it does so slowly. She said that even though many tourists held back during the recession, people generally feel that traveling is a right and will continue to do so. She said this “pent-up demand” could become evident in the coming years as more people get back to their financial comfort levels.
Based on early bookings and board discussions, Saupe expects bed taxes in Anchorage this year to increase at least 5 percent over 2011. She said Smith Travel Report data indicates Anchorage’s January and February bookings are already up 7 percent over the same months last year.
Saupe said this report will be consumed by the industry in many different ways and by individual businesses to find out where and how visitor money is being spent. “It’s great to see they spent $1.5 billion in the state, and that’s directly affecting Alaskans,” she said.
“The consumer information and market intelligence provided by AVSP is invaluable to the State of Alaska, local and regional destination marketers, and Alaska businesses,” Wanetta Ayers, director of the Division of Economic Development, said in the release. “Insights from AVSP help the state refine and optimize our destination marketing program.”
The AVSP research is a statewide program aided by the McDowell Group.