More visitors staying for more days and visiting more parts of the state will keep Alaska tourism strong into the future, Alaska Airlines Director of Sales and Community Marketing Scott Habberstad told Alaskans gathered at the 39th annual Alaska Resources Conference.
Habberstad represented the visitor industry on a review panel, along with colleagues from fisheries, forestry, oil and gas, and mining. In his comments, he shared record numbers from 2017, including 2.25 million visitors to the state, with a total economic impact of $4.5 billion. This year, he noted, looks to top 2017 and the outlook for 2019 is strong.
His greatest concern and key success factor for the coming years is reinvestment of visitor dollars back into promoting Alaska and infrastructure projects that support continued growth. Additional and improved ports and better access into Denali National Park were singled out as critical needs. He is optimistic that the new Dunleavy administration will continue to support these reinvestment projects and grow the tourism marketing budget so that Alaska continues to be a top choice for travelers. Without these, we risk losing ground to other destinations marketing themselves to the same audience, like Norway and the northern East Coast.
Habberstad discussed the role of tourism in the state economy, and while tax dollars and tourism spending top the list, it is important to realize the job impact, as well. The tourism sector provides 52,000 jobs* across a wide spectrum of positions, from entry-level to CEO, from start-up businesses to legacy transportation companies. The barrier to entry for new business in tourism is low and can be as easy as a pair of shoes and knowledge of a trail to apply entrepreneurial energy to a new tourism guide company. Tourism opens doors for Alaskans to live and work in the state they love.
Finally, Habberstad noted that it is critical to plan today for tomorrow. Uncruise Adventures is leading the way to a longer tourism season by operating as early as April. Major cruise lines remained in state ports until October this year. Winter tourism is quickly gaining popularity and opening a bigger window for northern lights, outdoor activities and more ski-related vacationers to choose Alaska.
The recognition by operators that we have a wider travel window than simply June – August is one way to increase the tourism impact on state economy, he said.
*The new visitor industry economic impact report can be found at https://www.commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded/DEV/TourismDevelopment/TourismResearch.aspx