ATIA: Alaska businesses hit by tourism slide

JUNEAU, Alaska -- Nearly half of Alaska's tourism-related businesses were impacted by a decline in tourists to the state this summer, the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) here reported.

That assessment comes from a statewide survey of 315 tourism-related businesses, which the ATIA said revealed that Alaska tourism's slow but steady growth over the past few years came to a halt this summer.

The survey was commissioned by the ATIA and conducted by the McDowell Group of Juneau and Anchorage in late September. It found that some sectors of the industry saw increases while others were in sharp decline, rendering overall zero growth in 2002.

Eric McDowell, partner of the statewide research firm, presented the findings to the ATIA annual convention here last week.

McDowell said that in 1990, summer visitors totaled 690,100 people.

In 1995, growth had slowed to 3.8% or 967,100 summer visitors. By 2001, the annual increase had slowed to just 0.5% at 1.2 million summer visitors.

"Now, the preliminary data for 2002 show an end to any growth," he said, "but the picture is complex."

For example, McDowell said the survey found that Alaska businesses suffered a 6% decline in the number of independent tourists to the state while the number of cruise passengers increased 4%.

Indeed, cruise ship companies reported record Alaska passenger numbers this year, 720,000 compared with 690,000 in 2001, but many passengers did not take package tours, impacting Interior Alaska greatly, and many did not take the high-end shore excursions critical to small tour operators.

Eighty-seven percent of interior region businesses said business was down in the 2002 summer season.

Of statewide businesses that reported decreases, 43% said business volume was down at least 11% and as much as 50%. Relative to the markets to which they cater:

• 81% of businesses primarily serving the adventure travel market reported a decline in volume.

• 65% of businesses serving the sport fishing market reported a decline in volume.

• 61% of those businesses primarily serving the cruise/cruise tour market reported a decline in business volume.

"Survival was how we measured success this year," said Kirk Hoessle, president of Alaska Wildland Adventures.

Full results of the survey will be posted at www.alaskatia.org under the "What's New" button.

Separately, ATIA unveiled a new logo and tagline at its third annual convention in Juneau last week: Beyond your dreams, within your reach.

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