By Amanda Bohman

An expected drop in visitors to Fairbanks this summer is proving to be true, preliminary numbers show.

City bed tax receipts for the month of May are down by about 30 percent compared to last year, according to the city of Fairbanks Web site.

The number of people riding the Alaska Railroad to Fairbanks slipped by 12.2 percent comparing the first halves of 2008 and 2009, the railroad spokesman said.

Twenty-two percent fewer people visited the University of Alaska Museum of the North during May and June this year compared to last year, a spokeswoman said.

Also in a slump is the Riverboat Discovery and the El Dorado Gold Mine. Numbers through mid-June are down by an estimated 30 to 35 percent, company president Ryan Binkley said.

“That’s our biggest decline ever,” he said. “And it’s consistent with what we’re hearing around town.”

Blame the economy and fewer cruise ship passengers, said Dave Worrell of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

“I’ve heard that a lot of folks are hurting,” Worrell said. “It seems the farther you get away from the water’s edge, kind of the worse it is. Our big fear is that we are going to lose businesses because of the economic climate this year. And next year could also be bad. The cruise lines have pulled ships, so we know there are going to be fewer people coming to Alaska, and that is not a good sign.”

Making matters worse, visitors who do come to Alaska are spending less money, according to Worrell and others.

Jinx Whitaker of New Horizons Gallery on First Avenue knows that as well as anyone.

High rollers aren’t coming into the gallery and spending like they used to, she said.

“There’s fewer people,” Whitaker said. “You can see that on the streets. I tell everyone we’re on life support.”

Carl Cox owns Gold Rush Fine Jewelry across the street.
“Some years are up,” he said. “Some years are down. This one’s off considerably.”

The store is relying more on local customers this year, Cox said.

Nick Stepovich, owner of Soapy Smith’s Pioneer Restaurant on Second Avenue, agreed. Business is down. He hadn’t yet crunched the numbers for his eatery to learn by how much.

“We’re finding out you need to hustle a little more to get a customer,” Stepovich said.

Joan Busam, owner of L’assiette de Pomegranate on the next block, said she is picking up more tour bus traffic this year.

Tourism is down, she said, but so far it’s not as awful as Busam expected.
“I thought it would be a nightmare,” she said.

Source: Fairbanks Daily News Miner

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