Tourism survey: ''Mixed reviews'' for 2002

Posted: Monday, March 11, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Bookings for 2002 are a mixed bag, Alaska tourism businesses reported in a recent survey for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, with many in the industry predicting they'll attract about the same number of visitors as last year.

The Alaska tourism industry has been concerned that fewer people will travel because of the economic downtown since Sept. 11 or fears of terrorism.

But Juneau's Driftwood Lodge is ''starting to get strong bookings,'' said Rick Kasnick, president of the motel and chairman of the visitors bureau board.

''More and more people are booking a month or a month and a half ahead rather than six to nine months ahead,'' he said. ''Hopefully, Alaska is going to be considered a safe haven for vacations.''

The recent statewide survey, called the Alaska Visitor Market Overview and 2002 Outlook, was conducted by the Juneau-based McDowell Group for the JCVB.

Cruise lines, which bring about 600,000 visitors a year to Juneau, have recently reported strong bookings. But the number of noncruise visitors may be flat, the study suggests. And businesses are worried that even cruise passengers spend as much on land tours and gifts.

Of the 1.2 million people who visited Alaska last summer for pleasure, 43 percent didn't come on cruises, the McDowell Group found. But the noncruise market has been flat since 1996, the study said.

''We called key businesses throughout the state such as air carriers, hotels, recreational vehicle companies, and land tour operators,'' said Anna Eberhardt, McDowell Group research analyst. ''We called a variety of businesses to get a handle on the pulse of what was going on.''

Alaska's tourism businesses ''on the whole feel they will meet last year's numbers,'' Eberhardt said. ''They may have to discount some, which means their net would not be what they would have preferred.''

But, Eberhardt said, ''There are mixed reviews depending on what niche market is consulted. Fishing lodges are very strong. But we see some softness in the independents or noncruisers such as travel on the roads, in buses or motorcoaches.''

Major land tour operators provided a mixed forecast in the McDowell Group survey. Some said their sales were up for 2002. Some said inquiries and bookings were down 10 percent to 30 percent.

Businesses that rent recreational vehicles reported a 5 percent increase to a 35 percent decrease, with a decline in European visitors. Rental car firms said inquiries were down 10 percent to 15 percent.

Reggie Schapp, customer service representative for the Alaskan Brewing Co., which offers tours of its Juneau brewery, said he is feeling the pinch of decreased bookings.

''Our tours are booked off the cruise ships, and a slowdown affects our gift shop area,'' Schapp said. ''We average 150 people a day (in summer), and at least half come on a bus from a cruise ship. It's a big part of our business.''

Schapp anticipates that cruise ships will be full, but he is concerned that passengers won't be able to afford land-based tours.

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