Economist sees lean times ahead for tourism in 49th state

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Alaska's tourism industry will likely take a hit next year as the "typical" Alaska visitor -- older, more affluent travelers who are close to retirement -- cut expenses to compensate for dwindling savings and retirement accounts as a result of the current economic crisis.

That was the prediction of a senior economist at Anchorage-based Northern Economics, who addressed a group of Alaska business leaders last week.

"If you look at who we've tried to bring to Alaska, they are a little more affluent. It's the people who are close to retirement, looking at their 401k" dwindle in value, economist Jonathan King said.

King predicted that tourism revenue next year will drop even if cruise arrivals next summer stay on par with this year's numbers, because cruises will be discounted and passengers will spend less when they go ashore.

Alaska tour companies will suffer as fewer travelers arrive by car, RV and air, King said. In addition, as the U.S. dollar strengthens vs. foreign currencies, Alaska will be less attractive to international visitors, King predicted. 

A flat year for tourism would be a "major victory" for Alaska, King said.

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