Alaska tourism marketers are launching new promotions to stimulate air travel to Alaska to overcome the newest obstacle to a return to normal for the state’s visitor industry, extended restrictions on cruise ships against using Canadian waters on voyages to Alaska.
“We’re starting this right now,” with a campaign aimed toward audiences in major U.S. cities that have been traditional sources of visitors to Alaska, Sarah Leonard, executive director of the Alaska Tourism Industry Association, told the Resource Development Council in Anchorage on Thursday.
Meanwhile, intense efforts are underway by the state’s congressional delegation, the state, cruise lines and ATIA to find a way of working around Canada’s ban on cruise ships. One idea being explored is a temporary lifting of the U.S. Jones Act so that foreign-built cruise ships can travel between U.S. ports such as Seattle to Ketchikan, in Southeast Alaska, without having to enter Canadian waters for a stop at Vancouver, B.C.
Flying over Canada directly to Anchorage and Fairbanks seems the best near-term alternative, and ATIA’s promotions are touting Alaska’s open spaces and landscape for Lower 48 residents who have been cooped up in COVID-19 lockdowns. That Alaska’s infection rates are low and declining is also a point in selling Alaska as a safe destination, Leonard told the RDC.
“Alaska has wide open spaces and we can assure a safe experience,” she said.
The association is also working with partner visitor organizations in Mat-Su, Anchorage, Kenai and Fairbanks to relaunch the “Show Up Alaska” campaign to encourage Alaskans to get out and enjoy their state.
The campaign proved successful last year in helping many small tourism operators get through a rough year with few out-of-state visitors. Special discounts and deals for Alaskans will be featured on ATIA’s website, “TravelAlaska.com.”
Meanwhile, preliminary indications for summer passenger travel to Alaska are encouraging, according to John Binder, deputy commissioner for aviation for the Alaska Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities.
Binder told a state legislative committee Thursday that airlines are scheduling 90 percent to 95 percent of passenger seats offered in a normal year, a sign of optimism.
“There’s a lot of talk in the industry that Americans are ready to vacation but are still uncertain about Europe and will opt for a safer destination, Alaska,” Binder told the Senate Transportation Committee.
Leonard said there appears now to be plenty of summer car rental capacity available, at least in major Alaska communities, but there are reports that some recreational vehicle, or RV, rental companies have sold off units after last year’s poor season, she said.
However, visitors flying into the state may be able to ship their RVs ahead of time, and some shipping companies are offering attractive rates, she said. ATIA also hopes to work with Canadian authorities to relax rules for driving up the Alaska Highway, Leonard said.