Tourism business cautiously optimistic about 2003

Posted: Sunday, January 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A survey of businesses shows that the outlook for Alaska's tourism industry is slightly better this year than in 2002, with businesses remaining cautiously optimistic.

Half of Alaska's tourism businesses surveyed said they served fewer visitors last year than in 2001, said Susan Bell, a partner at the McDowell Group Inc., a Juneau-based research firm that conducted the surveys. The surveys were presented Friday at the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau members' meeting.

The lackluster year was characterized by discounting as cruise ships tried to fill their vessels and the count of independent travelers fell, Bell said.

Travelers also have been booking their trips with much shorter lead times, due in large part to increased use of the Internet, she said.

''This window is getting smaller and closer, which for tour operators can be pretty nerve-racking,'' Bell said.

For 2003, many Alaska tourism businesses are expecting a similar pattern. Few are expecting the year to be as strong as 2001.

Some tour operators already have begun aggressively marketing for the summer season, and many travelers are waiting to book their trips, watching for the best deals, the surveys showed.

The outlook for this year is clouded by continued economic challenges, lingering fears and changes in air travel in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, as well as the possibility of war, Bell said.

John Rense, chairman of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the organization has made some changes in the way it markets Anchorage. He said more hotel rooms are available after recent industry expansion, so the bureau can now promote summer as a time to visit or hold small conventions.

The visitors bureau also plans to treat summer visitors as potential winter travelers.

National research shows people are interested in sports events, Rense said, so the bureau will start marketing marathons and basketball tournaments nationally, not just in-state.

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