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Alaska Campground Industry ‘On Slow Upswing’

July 19, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

At Denali National Park and some other hot tourist destinations around Alaska this summer, cruise-ship visitors have dwindled. But a small rise of independent travelers is providing some new hope for the state’s tourism industry.

Some tourism businesses are doing much better this summer than they did last year, when the recession kept many Alaska visitors from spending money on expensive tours, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

“The campground industry is on a slow upswing,” said Shannon Miller, who runs the Alaska Campground Owners Association (ACOA). In recent years, campgrounds around the state have struggled due to high gasoline prices and the global economic recession.

Miller said the reports she’s received from around the state show that bookings by campers are up this year, and some campgrounds are having their best year since 2005 or 2006. She said she hasn’t heard from any campground that is doing worse than it did last year.

So far, the apparent small increase in the number of people traveling independently in some parts of Alaska this summer is a nice surprise for tourism businesses. Among those reporting a boost in independent-visitor traffic are lodges, tour operators and campgrounds, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

“No one knew what to expect this year,” explained Mark Eliason, who heads USTravel, an Anchorage travel agency and tourism company. He and some other tour business owners said they budgeted for a poor summer but are beating their expectations.

For others, sales are flat. In the Interior, some companies say their sales are still sliding. Some are up a few percentage points. But some Southcentral tour operators are rejoicing because their bookings have picked up by 20% to 30%.

“People are feeling upbeat,” said Julie Saupe, president of the Anchorage Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Even though fewer tourists are traveling to Anchorage this year, they are spending more on a per-person basis than the tourists who came last year, Saupe said.

Tourism industry officials say it’s too early to tell if the independent travel this year will substantially reduce the blow to Alaska businesses from fewer cruise-ship visits, which is off 15% this summer.

Alaska Railroad passenger loads are down nearly 12% so far this year and the state-owned railroad is generating roughly 10% less revenue. But an Alaska Railroad executive said this week that a several-percentage-point increase in independent tourists has reduced the impact of the cruise-visitor decline.

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