With Alaska’s tourist season coming to an end, early signs indicate that summer has been a strong one for the visitor industry in Anchorage.
On the bright side, hotel demand and overall visitor numbers could reach record highs this year, reported Visit Anchorage, the city’s tourism board. Additionally, an Anchorage economic development group said last month that the city was on track to collect record bed and car rental taxes this year.
The number of travelers and the length of trips to Alaska this year are being helped by so-called “revenge trips,” said Julie Saupe, president of Visit Anchorage.
People are prioritizing travel, sometimes taking long trips or multiple trips a year, to make up for pandemic-related cancellations that began in March 2020, she said.
“After a few years of not traveling, some people have decided they’re going to think big this year,” Saupe said. “There’s pent-up demand, people have stayed home to save money, and Alaska ticks off what people are looking for: wide open spaces, beautiful scenery and wide horizons.”
Like last year, many independent travelers not affiliated with a cruise ventured to Alaska this summer, she said. Large cruise ships have also returned to Southcentral for the first time since the pandemic. This sharply increased visitor numbers, even though the ships were only partially full, in part because some rooms were reserved as COVID-19 quarantine space, Saupe said.
Chelsea Smith said it’s been a great summer for Go Hike Alaska, a small Anchorage-based company that runs tours in the Chugach Mountains and other parts of Alaska.
“We were banging in June, July and August,” said Smith, who books travel and is the company’s chief operating officer. “I think we had a banner year. We had more guides this year than last year, and we were always full.
According to Visit Anchorage:
• Passenger numbers at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport are up from last summer. They are only 7% below 2019 levels, a recovery that exceeds the national average. The airport set a record in 2019 with 5.7 million travellers.
• Hotel performance has been remarkably strong, with demand nearly equal to 2019. “Several weeks this summer have seen Anchorage among the top performing markets nationally for lodging,” the group said in a statement.
• Tourists seem to be staying longer, and tourism-related spending and income is on the rise. Municipal taxes on Anchorage hotel beds for 2022 are expected to increase 20% from the previous year, the group said. Municipal taxes on car and motorhome rentals have increased by 34% through June.
A report released last month by Anchorage Economic Development Corp. also showed strong trends in tourism-related revenue this summer. He predicted bed taxes for 2022 would hit a record $35 million, in part because room rates have risen amid strong demand. The report also predicts car rental tax revenue will hit a record $12 million, also because rates have risen amid strong demand, including through peer-to-peer rental platforms like Turo.
Tourism, like other industries in Alaska, is struggling to find enough employees, Visit Anchorage said. Supply grunts were another challenge, the group said.
Yet the tourism industry in Anchorage has created thousands of jobs in recreation and hospitality since 2020, one of the fastest growing of any sector in Anchorage, although still below the levels of 2019, said Visit Anchorage.
Hiring, training and retaining employees was a challenge at Salmon Berry Travel and Tours, in part because people are so eager to travel, said co-owner Candice McDonald.
The company, which offers guided van trips in south-central Alaska, saw unusual turnover even after raising wages, and despite good tips and a friendly work environment, she said. declared. She also set up her own relatively low-cost childcare service, which helped her hire a few employees as the pandemic sharply reduced childcare options, she said.
“We had more employees than ever, but that’s because no one wants to work full time,” she said. “A lot of people wanted time off this summer, so we had to hire more people to compensate for that. More than one person left before the end of the season because they wanted to travel the world.
But travel demand also means Salmon Berry had its best year to date, she said. Bookings also appear strong through October, she said.
“The numbers are great, so we’re pretty happy with everything right now,” she said. “And we’re pretty excited for November because we can take a break.”
There are also positive signs on the horizon as demand for conventions and meetings in Anchorage picks up, Visit Anchorage said.
A bright spot this fall will be the return of the Federation of Alaska Natives to the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage for its first live convention since before the pandemic.
The event typically draws more than 5,000 visitors over several days in October and takes place amid a constellation of related events, including the equally important Elders and Youth Conference hosted by the First Alaskans Institute.
“We’re starting to have meetings again, which is fantastic,” Saupe said. “This is a market we haven’t seen since 2020.”
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