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Anchorage on pace for bed tax record, cruisers hold steady

All they major indicators show Alaska’s tourism industry has fully recovered from the depths of the “Great Recession.”

That is particularly evident in Anchorage, where bed tax revenue outpaced 2013 — a record year for the key industry metric — over the first half of the year. Visit Anchorage President and CEO Julie Saupe said the second act of the year should continue the trend when the numbers are final.

“Our fall season is going to be fantastic,” Saupe said.

If her prediction holds true, bed tax revenue in the Municipality of Anchorage could approach $24 million, which would be a record for the third consecutive year and be nearly a 25 percent increase from 2009.

Reliant on discretionary spending, the industry took a major blow when economies worldwide recoiled in 2009-10. Some studies estimate Alaska lost close to 5,000 tourism and hospitality-related jobs during the worst period of the recession.

Anchorage has been helped in recent years by a healthy convention industry. The addition of the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center to the city’s downtown allows multiple gatherings to be held at once, Saupe said.

In October the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention returned to Anchorage and brought with it the National Indian Education Association Convention.

“(NIEA) chose Anchorage based on the fact that AFN was going to be here in October and they wanted to do their conventions back-to-back,” she said.

Next year about 1,400 members of the International Economic Development Council will convene in Anchorage and headline a busy convention schedule for the city, according to Saupe.

While the large meetings often bring upwards of 1,000 people to the city, she emphasized that smaller, regular state meetings are vital to Anchorage as well.

“The ability to maintain our state business, serve that 350-person convention, and at the same time have something like the IEDC in town has been important,” Saupe said.

The industry rebound can also be seen in Southcentral cruise ship activity. More visitors come to Alaska via cruise ship than any other mode of transportation.

According to the Cruise Lines International Association Alaska, cruise companies are adding nearly 8 percent capacity to the region for 2015, with ships expected to carry 330,000 passengers across the Gulf of Alaska to Seward, Whittier and Anchorage next year.

Saupe and her team at the Anchorage tourism marketing group consider Seward and Whittier port calls as good or better for their city than calls directly to Anchorage. Nearly all of the passengers disembarking from ships in the smaller towns travel to Anchorage by rail and they often spend more time in the city than those on ships making day stops.

Holland America Line’s Statendam will call on Anchorage nine times from May to September of next year, up from five stops the company’s Amsterdam made in 2014.

Juneau

The larger ships making gross-Gulf voyages also make multiple stops in Southeast, benefiting the communities there.

As the region’s hub, nearly all of the ships stop in Juneau. Smaller vessels deployed to Alaska this past summer led to what will likely be a slight dip in cruise visitors.

Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau President and CEO Nancy Woizeschke said she expects the final tally to be about 950,000 cruisers through the capitol city for 2014, off less than 5 percent from last year. Alaska flirted with the magical 1 million-cruiser mark in 2013.

“We don’t think we’re going to hit the 1 million cruise ship visitor mark this year but we certainly saw a lot of independent travelers coming this year outside of cruise ships so we’re always excited to see that,” Woizeschke said.

Independent travelers often use Juneau as a trailhead of sorts for trips to other parts of Southeast.

She said a 3 percent increase in cruisers is expected for next year based on larger ships being sent to Alaska again. Several of the ships traversing the Inside Passage in 2015 will have the ability carry more than 2,000 passengers, and Princess Cruise Line’s Ruby Princess will lead the way with more than 3,000 berths, Woizeschke said.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Link to original article: http://www.alaskajournal.com/Alaska-Journal-of-Commerce/November-Issue-2-2014/Anchorage-on-pace-for-bed-tax-record-cruisers-hold-steady/

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