Travel experts fear Alaska tourism could take big hit from attacks

Posted: Wednesday, October 10, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Alaska's travel industry is worried that last month's terrorist attacks and the U.S.-led strikes on Afghanistan will devastate the state's 2002 tourism season.

Fear of flying, cautious spending and uncertainty about the future could keep many travelers closer to home, analysts say.

''The industry is scared to death,'' Dale Fox, vice chair of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said at the group's annual convention in Anchorage Tuesday.

Travel for the rest of this year will be significantly lower than usual and will remain soft through the first half of 2002, the Travel Industry Association of America predicts.

Hotels, tour companies and other visitor-related businesses normally start taking reservations in the fall for the following summer. Bookings for many such businesses in Alaska are off by 40 to 50 percent, Fox said.

It could get even worse if more terrorist attacks occur in the United States, or if the military situation overseas deteriorates.

While many are girding for a slower 2002 season, they're also reeling from losses incurred directly from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. At least nine conventions scheduled to be held in Anchorage and Girdwood last month were canceled. That represents a loss of at least $2.3 million to the city, said Joy Maples, public relations director for the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau. Other conventions had lower than expected turnout because delegates either chose not to fly or couldn't get here because planes were grounded nationwide for two days.

Brad Phillips, a longtime glacier tour operator in Prince William Sound, had counted on taking large groups of conventioneers on boat trips. The cancellations were punishing.

''We lost close to a quarter million dollars,'' Phillips said.

The travel association is looking to state government for help. The group sent a $12.5 million request to Gov. Tony Knowles last week to strengthen its marketing efforts, Fox said. Last year, the group received $4.5 million in state funds and that's just not adequate, he and others said. Alaska is outspent by 37 other states as far as state tourism funding, including Florida which has a budget in excess of $60 million, Fox said.

During a panel discussion at the convention Tuesday, however, two state legislators said homeland security will be their first priority next session, the Anchorage Daily News reported. Senate Majority Leader Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, and House Finance Committee Co-Chair Eldon Mulder, R-Anchorage, said they're willing to entertain requests for additional tourism funding but the industry faces a tough challenge.

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