KETCHIKAN - The downturn in the global economy is being felt in Southeast Alaska, a region of the state that has come to expect lots of summer visitors.
After years of growth in the tourism industry, the outlook for the 2009 season is uncertain. The global economic downturn has cruise lines discounting heavily to fill the ships that bring the majority of visitors to Alaska. And no one knows how much money those passengers will spend on once they get here.
Overall bookings are down for travelers visiting Alaska.
Industry representatives say they hope those decisions are made soon, and in Alaska's favor.
Otherwise, the 2009 season might be a struggle for many of the visitor-related businesses in Southeast and the rest of the state.
"I'd like to say there's a bright spot," said Ron Peck, president and chief operating officer of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. "But I've yet to find it."
Convincing consumers to take a cruise has meant discounting fares, often substantially in the case of Alaska.
"Typically they just keep reducing the prices until they can fill the ship," said John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association. "And they're finding for the Alaska cruises, they have to discount them much more in order to incentivize people."
Binkley said he's heard reports that cruise line revenue is down about 40 percent for Alaska, compared with 10 to 15 percent for areas like the Caribbean.
That means there are some great deals on Alaska cruises.
On Friday, prospective cruisers could find $349 seven-night cruises on Holland America Line ships between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Seward in May. That's up to 65 percent off the brochure prices, according to the travel Web site, Orbitz.com.
Prices for similar voyages in June on Holland America, Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises ships were advertised Friday on Orbitz for as low as $399.
"I've never seen pricing as low as I've seen this year," said Peck, who's been involved with the Alaska visitor industry in various capacities for more than 30 years.
Len Laurance, a Ketchikan-based marketing consultant who's been involved with the visitor industry for many years, said the early indications are that overall cruise bookings are down for 2009 but he expressed some optimism about the cruise lines' ability to sell cruises.
"We know that the ships are going to be pretty close to full when they dock here," Laurance said. "However, we know that the cruise lines are deeply discounting to get those passengers."
That has many Alaskans wondering how cruise passengers will be spending.
"The real question, particularly in Southeast, is are they going to spend money in the ports like they have traditionally?" Binkley said. "And that is really an unknown."
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