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Alaska tourism growth expected to continue into 2019

By: Grant Robinson, KTUU

January 17, 2019

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) – Anchorage tourism leaders touted growth in visitation and visitor spending in 2018 and project 2019 to be an even more prosperous year for the industry.

At the Visit Anchorage report to the community on Thursday, Visit Anchorage president and CEO Julie Saupe detailed the challenges and opportunities the industry faces moving forward.

When complete data from 2018 is available, Saupe expects hotel revenue to approach levels set in 2015 and car rental and business revenue to stop a decline seen in 2016 and 2017.

Moving forward, Saupe says flights to Alaska on new airlines including Allegiant Air and Sun Country Airlines, and expanded flights on existing routes will bring more visitors to the area.

Additionally, Saupe expects the region to see 12 percent growth from the cruise industry.

While most visitors are from the Lower 48, tourism leaders are focused on tapping into new markets including China to keep tourism revenue growing.

“The Chinese middle class is getting to a point where they are able to travel,” Saupe said. “We’re also very interested in continuing talks with airlines because direct air service is really critical to see the explosion of that market.”

Despite the growth, a number of challenges may limit the success of Alaska’s tourism industry.

“In the short term, and I hope it is very short term, certainly the government shutdown has us all a little bit uneasy,” Saupe said.

Additionally, the marketing budget for the Alaska Travel Industry Association was slashed in fiscal year 2017. Saupe says it’s difficult to tell the impact of that.

“Marketing is not: We put an ad out this week and the visitors arrive two days from now. There are really long-term, long-planned vacations for a lot of people. We did some very strong marketing programs three, four years ago and we’ve continued the program, just at a lower budget rate over the last several years,” Saupe said. “We used to piggyback on the state program, and as that saw a downturn we’ve had to change how we do business a little bit.”

While tourism growth creates more jobs, Saupe says many businesses have trouble finding qualified employees to fill those roles. A job fair is currently being planned.

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