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Alaska tourism numbers keep increasing

Robin Wood, Daily News-Miner
Oct 13, 2018


Mark and Marina Fairbanks are photographed by their daughter-in-law Erin in front of a section of the Alyeska Pipeline at Gold Dredge #8 as members of Mark Fairbanks’s family visits Fairbanks as part of his 50th anniversary vacation with his wife Marina Tuesday, July 17, 2018. Fairbanks, from Virginia, is a relative of Indiana Sen. and Vice President Charles Fairbanks after which Fairbanks, Alaska was named.

FAIRBANKS — Tourism numbers in Alaska continue to climb, helping fill state coffers with crucial funds, bringing valuable business to communities and growing private-sector jobs during a time when the state as a whole has lost jobs.

That’s according to Heather Haugland, a senior project manager at the McDowell Group.

Haugland shared data Tuesday at the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s annual convention with a presentation titled “The Role of Visitors in Alaska’s Economy.”

In her presentation, Haugland detailed 2017’s numbers, what they mean for Alaska and gave preliminary results for 2018’s numbers.

“All signs point to a really healthy 2018 season,” she said.

Alaska hosted 1.93 million visitors in 2017, a 4 percent increase over 2016. Nearly the entire increase is attributable to more cruise ship passengers, according to Haugland.

Since 2010’s recession-attributed slump of 1.53 million visitors, Alaska has seen tourism rates increase 26 percent. Since 2008, the climb has been more modest at 13 percent.

According to Haugland, taxes and fees imposed on 2017’s visitors were directly responsible for $125.6 million that went directly to the state government.

In the Interior, visitors spent $478 million, and tourism was responsible for 8,500 jobs.

Throughout Alaska, visitors spent $3.2 billion, and tourism created 43,000 jobs, an increase of 3,600 jobs since 2015.

The Interior is also the hot spot for winter travelers. At 14 percent of total visitors, winter makes up a small portion of tourists, but fall-winter traffic has been increasing faster than summer has, Haugland said.

Between the winters of 2008 and 2017, winter tourism has increased 33 percent.

“New businesses are being created to accommodate the market,” she said, referring to lodging, aurora viewing, ice fishing and tours.

Finalized numbers for summer 2018 aren’t expected for a few months, but cruise ship passengers are expected to show an additional 7 percent increase and are projected grow by an additional 17 percent in 2019, according to Haugland.

“That’s huge,” she said.

Cross-border vehicle traffic is expected to grow about 13 percent in 2018, from 190,074 passengers to 214,873. Those numbers include any passengers from private vehicles, whether they are residents or visitors.

All border crossing have shown increased traffic, with a 24 percent increase on the Alaska-Canada Highway, 19 percent on the Top of the World Highway, 8 percent in Haines and 5 percent in Skagway.

“More indicators the noncruise industry has sort of bounced back,” Haugland said.

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