FAIRBANKS — The president of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau said a modest rise in visitor numbers is forecast this summer, although business is still expected to be tight as the industry continues to feel the lingering effects of the global recession.
Deb Hickok said promising long-term signs for Alaska tourism may take several years to develop.
“We have a ways to go on the road to recovery,” she said, speaking at a Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Tuesday.
She said the tourism industry is still working its way back from a slump that began more than two years ago. There were 1.7 million visitors to Alaska in 2008, she said, but that figure slipped to 1.6 million last summer.
The main factor leading to the drop in Alaska visitors was a reduction in travel on cruise ships, which deliver the majority of visitors to the state. Cruise numbers dropped by 142,000 passengers in 2010, but those number will begin a slow reversal this summer as the economy improves, Hickok said. She said 7,000 more passengers are expected in 2011, before an additional Gulf of Alaska cruise from Princess significantly boosts the number further in 2012.
Hickok said there are other reasons to be optimistic, citing surveys that show Alaska is on the rise as a preferred visitor destination. She said interest in seeing Alaska has risen three-fold in recent years.
She said the added presence of Frontier Airlines, which began offering Fairbanks-to-Denver flights last summer, will continue this year.
Frontier was attracted to Fairbanks with the help of a $500,000 grant for under-served communities, with a $100,000 match from the FCVB.
Condor Airlines, traveling from Fairbanks to Germany, also is back for at least another year. Hickok said tourism officials are watching that flight closely, since an additional leg to Whitehorse is being replaced with a leg to Anchorage.
That move could potentially cost Fairbanks visitors because it changes the way travelers entering the United States go through customs.
“We’re a little perplexed about that decision,” she said. “It makes it a little tougher for us.”
Contact staff writer Jeff Richardson at 459-7518.