Industry officials see lean year after Sept. 11 terrorism

PHOTO/courtesy of LCMF Inc.
Alaska tourism officials believe the upcoming tourist season will experience declines in total visitors in the wake of terrorist attacks earlier this year.

Some industry representatives are pushing legislators for increased marketing dollars in an effort to improve a grim outlook for travel nationwide for 2002.

The travel industry has faltered because of slackening demand after the East Coast terrorist attacks. A U.S. recession hasn’t helped the industry either, some industry leaders noted.

"The biggest issue for the upcoming season is what will happen as a result of people’s reluctance to travel and how it will affect the visitor industry in Alaska," said Tina Lindgren, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Alaska tourism has seen slowing growth in visitor numbers in recent years but never faced such expectations for possible significant declines, she said. Last summer an estimated 1.2 million people visited the state, Lindgren noted.

Economic reasons may keep potential visitors from traveling or curtail spending if they do, she said. Some tour operators are discounting packages as a way to attract visitors to Alaska, she said.

An increase in highway travel also could affect Alaska tourism because most visitors arrive by air, Lindgren said.

In early December the Alaska Travel Industry Association reported results from a survey showing an average decrease of 23 percent in advance bookings compared with the same period last year. Inquiries from potential visitors were also down by 23 percent overall, the findings showed.

Survey results depict a 2002 season tallying declines in total visitors and direct spending to Alaska tourism businesses, she said.

Also, ATIA expects inbound travel from overseas destinations to be soft.

In mid-December a governor’s task force recommended the Legislature approve $12.5 million for tourism marketing.

The new year could be a challenging year for Alaska tourism, said Deb Hickok, executive director of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. FCVB plans for 2002 include building a new Web site, starting a visiting friends and relatives local business incentive program and conducting direct sales efforts on the West Coast.

Juneau tourism marketing efforts aim to encourage potential travelers to visit Alaska since its a safe, domestic locale, said John Beiler, director of tourism development at the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Altered travel attitudes also have prompted cruise companies to make changes.

For 2002 cruise lines plan to deploy four additional ships to Alaska, a result of repositioning ships away from less attractive Middle East and Mediterranean routes. This summer 25 large cruise vessels will serve the state: 21 based in Vancouver, British Columbia, two each based in Seattle and San Francisco.

Cruise operations in Alaska could see changes depending on the outcome of a proposed merger between Princess Cruises of London and Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises. Princess also is considering a subsequent offer from Carnival Corp., also based in Miami. All three companies offer cruises in Alaska. In Alaska Princess and Royal Caribbean both operate separate fleets of ships, buses and rail cars while Princess operates four hotels with a fifth under construction.

ATIA’s Lindgren said the companies’ 2002 packages are already in place, and any effects of a merger would occur in 2003.

Anticipated new hotels opening this spring include the 125-room Hilton Garden Inn and the 109-room Dimond Center Hotel, both in Anchorage.

Princess Tours plans to open its 84-room Copper River Princess Lodge in May. In the same area the U.S. Park Service plans to open a Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve visitors center.

12/30/2001 - 8:00pm