Alaska tourism still on the rise, but at a lesser rate

With the new year approaching, Travel Weekly contributing editor Jorge Sidron asked Ron Peck, president and COO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, how tourism has fared this year and what 2008 might look like in the Last Frontier State.

Travel Weekly:In general terms, what's the state of Alaska tourism?

Peck: Alaska tourism continues to grow, but the rate of growth is smaller than what was seen in the 1980s and 1990s. We currently see growth of 1% to 3%, whereas in the 1980s and 1990s we saw double-digit growth.

TW:How was business thus far this year and during the critical summer season?

Peck: Summer 2007 was good for Alaska tourism businesses. We estimate a 3% increase over the number of visitors that came in summer 2006. Border-crossing numbers showed an increase in the number of highway travelers.

TW:Describe the state of cruising in Alaska. Is it still the top tourism market?

Peck: It is true that Alaska sees more cruise passengers than those traveling by other modes of travel, and this can be partially credited to the amount of marketing each cruise line conducts. ATIA's marketing, on the other hand, is targeted to all types of travelers: air, highway, ferry and cruise. Our goal is to increase awareness of Alaska as a destination and provide information on all the ways you can explore the state.

TW:How does the cruise passenger visiting Alaska today differ from a few years ago? Has the demographic changed?

Peck: Yes, the demographic for cruise visitors has changed. According to the Alaska Visitors Statistics Program, cruise passengers over the last decade are getting younger. The average age of a cruise visitor in 1993 was 55, compared to 53 in 2006. Another significant change is that more international consumers are cruising in Alaska. In 1993, the percent of international consumers cruising was just 5%, and that increased to 11% in 2006.

TW:Are the number of visitors that come by land and air rising? Are these visitors looking for different experiences?

Peck: Preliminary numbers for visitors traveling to Alaska via highway show an increase, and the feedback we are getting from business owners along the highway is very good. Based on border-crossing numbers, ATIA expects the number of highway travelers was up by an estimated 9% in 2007, while the number of air travelers remained steady.  

The primary reasons people choose to travel to Alaska are to see our beautiful scenery and wildlife, regardless of their mode of travel. People come to Alaska to see our glaciers, the wildlife and mountains.  Visitors traveling to Alaska via air and highway tend to be a bit more adventurous and enjoy traveling at their own pace. 

TW:What can we expect from the ATIA as Alaska gears up for 2008?

Peck: ATIA is experiencing funding difficulties, so our marketing budget may be strained this coming year. Our direct-mail package that includes a personal invitation from the governor to visit Alaska continues to perform well for us and will be a large part of our marketing effort. We'll continue with TV advertising on cable networks as our budget allows, and a small magazine and online advertising campaign will round out our program for the year.

TW:Are there any plans to promote Alaska on the airwaves next year?

Peck: ATIA hopes to continue placing ads on TV, but it will depend on funding.

TW:Tell me about the ATIA's plan for travel agents next year.

Peck: ATIA will be attending a variety of trade shows, including ASTA, CLIA and Vacation.com. We will also conduct our own series of training in Florida in January with our member businesses. Alaska brochures are available on TravelPromotions.com, and our free online training program, Alaska Certified Expert, is available at www .travelalaska.com/trade.  

TW:Alaska is a destination that needs to weigh its efforts to grow tourism with a need to protect the environment. How is Alaska doing in this regard?

Peck: It is clearly stated in ATIA's vision statement that the organization will remain "attentive to care for the environment." Alaska tourism companies have always been very sensitive to the impact their activities have on the environment. If they were not attentive to the environment, they would, in essence, be putting themselves out of business.

To contact reporter Jorge Sidron, send e-mail to [email protected].

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