Visitor leaders expect the 2009 season to be off by as much as 35 percent. More remote locations like Nome and expensive tours may be the hardest hit


This is the time of year when tourists plan their trips to Alaska and make their bookings – so where are they?

Alaska travel officials say some businesses are reporting a 30 percent decline compared to last year at this time – and in 2008 Alaska tourism had a flat performance.

Which means 2009 is looking dismal so far. The momentum to fill the cruise ships and hotels this summer appears to be going the way of the holiday shopping season – down.

With a nation in recession, fewer appear willing to book an expensive trip north.

“Folks up in Fairbanks, talking to some of the operators of the hotels up there, their preseason bookings are down 30 percent,” said Dave Worrell with the Alaska Travel Industry Association. “Now once again I tend to be an optimistic guy, but my optimistic projection is a 10-15 percent decline this summer.”

If Worrell’s “optimistic” projections are accurate, he says the state’s economy will lose more than $200 million in ’09.

The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) is hearing the same projections, and it’s turning to new approaches to keep the out-of-state flow coming to Anchorage.

“In January you’ll be seeing us go out with a real call to action to Anchorage and Alaska residents, asking for their help, telling them it’s our golden anniversary, this is the year to get your friends and family up to Alaska as well,” said Julie Saupe, the ACVB president and CEO.

On the upside, ACVB says the convention and meeting sector appears to be holding strong.

It’s the individual traveler not booking, at least not yet.

Worrell says many travelers will be more value-conscious this year and looking for a deal, to which he says some companies are already responding.

“You’re already seeing $499 seven-day cruises in Alaska,” he said. “And at those kind of rates that is a great value for folks who may want to experience their Alaska vacation of a lifetime.”

If the projections are correct it will likely be the small businesses hurt the most, making the 2009 tourist season potentially one to remember for all the wrong reasons.

Officials say this year Alaska saw a decline of about 20 percent in visitors who drove to the state on the Alaska Highway.

That decline was attributed to gas prices, and with lower prices now officials hope those numbers turn around.

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