Tourism businesses gear up for convention season

Posted: Tuesday, September 03, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Most Alaska event organizers expect the upcoming convention season to be a good one, despite earlier concerns stemming from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The attacks made people less inclined to travel to faraway places, but many still want to visit Alaska, Julie Dodds, a convention sales manager at the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the Alaska Journal of Commerce.

Last year, Alaska's major cities earned roughly $95 million from convention business and 2002 could see similar results, officials said.

Anchorage recorded $81 million in economic impact from conventions held last year, although some fall events were canceled or poorly attended after Sept. 11. The city has seen convention business double over the past decade. The Anchorage Convention and Visitors Bureau said it sold meetings worth $31.4 million in 1990 and $70.4 million in 2000.

Meetings of people from within the state represent the largest portion of Anchorage convention business. The city's largest event, the Alaska Federation of Natives annual meeting, is scheduled for Oct. 21-26 this year. The event has been growing and now attracts up to 5,000 participants.

''We're gearing up now for fall season,'' said Karen Zak, general manager of Visions, an Anchorage firm that coordinates meetings and events. ''The season starts in September and runs nonstop through March,'' she said.

Zak believes the 2002 meetings market should post an increase from last year. She works with professional educational events for the medical field and others that do not change plans since their industries require employees to earn education credits at such conferences.

Fall meetings at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood trail 2001 fall bookings, but spring and summer 2003 numbers look good, said Chris von Imhof, vice president and managing director.

One boost should come next March when the resort hosts the U.S. alpine ski championships, he said. The event should be worth more than $150,000 in meal and room expenses from March 15-25, said Marlene Geils, Alyeska Resort's director of sales.

''It's going to have a big impact on us,'' she said.

The Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau says the fall outlook is fairly strong.

''September is our busiest month now,'' said FCVB conventions manager Jennifer Jolis.

The Interior city will host two major events in September. The Alaska State Chamber of Commerce should attract about 500 people with an estimated economic impact of up to $310,000, Jolis said. The meeting runs Sept. 24-26.

The Pioneers of Alaska annual convention Sept. 18-20 is also expected to bring 500 participants and could be worth $250,000, she said. Jolis said the two events will generate different amounts because Pioneers of Alaska members will likely lodge with friends or in recreational vehicles.

Fairbanks also can expect an economic boost during the Top of the World Classic college basketball tournament in November, Jolis said.

During 2001, meetings and activities brought roughly $6.4 million to Fairbanks, Jolis said.

National trends following Sept. 11 are influencing Juneau's convention business, said Lorene Kappler, president and chief executive at the Juneau Convention & Visitors Bureau. Many conventioneers are looking at sites within driving distance, which poses a challenge for Juneau, a city not accessible by road.

''Our booking levels aren't as high as in the past,'' Kappler said.

Most recent statistics show meetings and conventions brought $6.4 million to Juneau in 1999, Kappler said.

Two major events this fall should benefit area businesses. The American Indian Tourism Association meeting is set for Sept. 28 through Oct. 1, and the Alaska Travel Industry Association is scheduled for Oct. 8-10. Each event could attract up to 500 delegates, and each could have an estimated economic impact of $900,000, Kappler said.

Convention season in Ketchikan this year should surpass 2001's economic impact of $1.3 million, said Sandra Meske, Ketchikan Visitors Bureau marketing director.

Meeting participants are expected to spend $1.5 million this year, Meske said.

Ketchikan will host the 150-delegate Alaska Cabaret, Hotel Restaurant and Retailers Association Sept. 30-Oct. 3. The event will have an economic impact of about $100,000, Meske said.

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