By Ashton Goodell
The airline and cruise industries say they are just trying to keep their heads above the water: there are fewer planes, fewer ships and fewer passengers this year.
And the worst is yet to come.
Tourism shops know the ticket to more vacation sales is marketing, but at this point it feels like they’re just giving it away.
You can find deals – hotel prices are slashed, cruise tickets are discounted, and you’ll get a little more with almost any vacation package.
But even with the discounts people aren’t spending.
“Worldwide economy is certainly a good part of it,” said Julie Saupe, president and CEO of the Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau. “People don’t want to part with their money. They’ve seen their bank accounts, they’ve seen their 401(k)’s, they’ve seen everything drop. And they are being very cautious right now.”
And next year is expect to be worse. Fewer people have booked cruises, meaning fewer plane tickets and fewer customers for Alaska businesses.
“Well the airline industry as a whole, there is some headwinds out there – the high price of fuel and the softening economy has made it a bit of a challenge,” Scott Habberstad with Alaska Airlines said.
The 2010 cruise schedule is already laid out and passenger numbers are down 20 percent.
At least four ships won’t make port in Alaska because the state can’t compete with other destinations.
“It’s a competitive market and I think people still want to come to Alaska, however with that said, I think having to sell their beds at a discount just to get them on board, I think they are looking at operating costs in Alaska exceeds other ports in the world,” said Rick Erickson, operations manager for Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska.
At a August 20 tourism summit, speakers talked about getting rid of the head tax to encourage cruise ships to come back, though others feel the head tax is completely justified to build infrastructure in port towns.
And things get worse – now there’s less money to sell vacations.
“You’ve heard about the redeployments – cruise lines taking ships out of Alaska waters,” Saupe said. “With those ships also go marketing dollars, and so we are concerned about the amount of marketing we have. In a downturn you want to market more, not market less.”
“There is an endless amount of year-round activities that if marketed more properly could return the cost of marketing by 100 fold,” said glacier cruise operator Stan Stephens.
At this point they’ll try anything – ticket incentives, commercials, or legislation – to sell Alaska.
Both Anchorage and Fairbanks saw a 20 percent decrease in tourism this year. Those declines are expected to worsen next year.