Report offers insight into record-setting summer 2016

While Denali visitation dropped 5 percentage points between 2011 and 2016, it still ranks as a top reason for future repeat visits.
While Denali visitation dropped 5 percentage points between 2011 and 2016, it still ranks as a top reason for future repeat visits. Photo Credit: Matt Hage
Mary Pemberton
Mary Pemberton

Alaska welcomed a record number of visitors last summer, according to the Alaska Tourism Industry Association (ATIA) and the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

More than 1.8 million visitors came to Alaska from May to September 2016, a 4% increase from the same period the previous year. Put in perspective, the increase is even more dramatic. According to the 2016 report, visitor volume to Alaska last year was 8% higher than a decade ago and 21% higher than the low point in 2010.

What's more, visitors rated their trips very highly, with 75% "very satisfied" and just 1% "dissatisfied" in 2016.

"Alaska communities and the state are seeing strong returns from past tourism marketing dollar investments as 2016 summer visitors spent more on their trips," said Sarah Leonard, ATIA president and CEO. "This spending by visitors created $1.97 billion in economic activity last summer."

Visitors last summer spent an average of $1,057 per person, up 4% from the previous year. The figure does not include the transportation to enter or exit the state, or any cruise or tour packages.

Repeat travelers also have been increasing over the past decade, from 30% of visitors in 2006 to 40% in 2016.

A new survey question was added in 2016. Visitors who were very likely to return were asked what they were most interested in experiencing on their next trip to Alaska. Top responses were fishing, wildlife, visiting friends and family, viewing the northern lights and Denali.

A new question asked online users which websites and apps they used to plan and book their trip. The most commonly used sites for both planning and booking were airline and cruise line websites. Other popular sites included Google, TripAdvisor, Expedia, lodging websites, tour company websites and car/RV rental websites.

Over one-third said they had used a travel agent to book their trip. The use of travel agents has declined from more than half in 2006 to 35% in 2016.

While cruise ship passengers still make up the majority of Alaska's visitors, the report says 40% arrived by air, a 6% increase over the previous year. Those arriving by cruise ship accounted for 55% of visitors, totaling more than 1 million people last summer. The highway and ferry market saw a 10% jump and now accounts for 5% of total summer visitor volume.

Seventy-nine percent of visitors came to Alaska last year for vacation and pleasure. Thirteen percent were visiting friends and relatives, 5% came for business and 3% for business and pleasure.

Nearly two-thirds of visitors purchased a multi-day package in summer 2016, while 36% were independent travelers. The package purchase rate has fallen gradually over the last decade with a corresponding rise in the independent traveler rate.

Southeast Alaska was the most visited region, amounting to 67% of the overall market. That was followed by Southcentral, Interior, Southwest and Far North. The three cruise ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway were the most visited destinations last summer.

Most visitation rates by destination remained the same between 2011 and 2016 but there were a few exceptions. Denali visitation fell from 28% to 23% and Fairbanks visitation fell from 21% to 17%.

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