Visitor industry outlook is good, says Explore Fairbanks CEO

January 1, 1970

By Amanda Bohman,, Jan 24, 2018 FAIRBANKS—Tourism is going strong across the globe and Fairbanks is no exception, according to the head of Explore Fairbanks. Summer is still the busiest season for visitors to Fairbanks, but most of the growth happening here has to do with wintertime aurora viewing, Explore Fairbanks CEO Deb Hickok said Wednesday in remarks at the Annual Interior Tourism Conference, a day of visitor industry information and workshops held at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel. "We have really developed into a year-round tourism destination," Hickok said. "I think we can say that with a straight face." Numbers from the U.S. Travel Association and the U.S. Department of Commerce show growth in travel expenditures in the U.S. every year since 2009, according to Hickok. In Fairbanks, spending on hotel and motel rooms in the Fairbanks North Star Borough has been on the rise in recent years. In 2014, $56.8 million was spent on lodging in the area. The total rose to $59.7 million in 2015 and $65.1 million in 2016, according to the latest Community Research Quarterly, published by the borough. Final numbers are not yet available for 2017, but it looks on track to beat 2016 after the first quarter of 2017 showed a 30 percent increase in revenue over the same time period, January through March, in 2016. Border crossings from Canada are also up. According to Hickok, crossings at the Poker Creek and Beaver Creek entry points, on the Top of the World Highway and on the Alaska Highway, respectively, have been rising steadily every year since 2014. More than 72,000 border crossings were reported in 2014. The number jumped to 83,360 in 2015, 96,473 in 2016 and 102,412 in 2017, according to Hickok. The Explore Fairbanks CEO credited much of the local visitor industry growth to advances in air service here. The number of airline passengers in and out of Fairbanks International Airport—about 1.1 million people in 2017—has been rising annually since 2009, according to numbers provided by Hickok and in the Community Research Quarterly. Hickok noted that Japan Airlines charters to Fairbanks have continued since 2004. When the Asia-based airline has reduced service, other airlines have stepped in to bring Japanese guests to Fairbanks, namely Korean Airlines and, more recently, Uzbekistan Airlines and All Nippon Airways, according to Hickok. Charters have been arriving from Taiwan since 2015, she said. Hickok said efforts are underway to attract direct service to Fairbanks from Phoenix, San Francisco or Los Angeles, which she said is key for boosting international travel. Fairbanks is a leader in the state for attracting visitors from outside of the U.S., according to Hickok. The international travelers are coming to Fairbanks primarily for aurora viewing, she said. Visitor industry experts are anticipating an uptick in cruise line passengers to Alaska in the coming years. Explore Fairbanks is looking for ways to attract those travelers to Fairbanks, Hickok said. "We are really stepping up our game in terms of talking with travel agents about land tours," she said. Denali National Park and Preserve has seen a boost in visitors every year since 2012. That year, the park logged 388,433 visitors. In 2016, the park had 599,822 visitors, according to the National Park Service website. Attempts to reach the Park Service to get the number of visitors for 2017 were unsuccessful on Wednesday. The Alaska Railroad Corp. has reported steady growth in passengers since 2014 and is expecting that to continue in 2018, railroad spokesman Tim Sullivan said. He said the railroad had 495,457 passengers in 2016 and 505,994 in 2017. Source