ANCHORAGE - A new survey indicates the tourism season ahead may not be as bleak as was anticipated last fall.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association released a late-March survey of its members Monday, showing an overall 13 percent drop in tourism bookings compared with a year ago.
While that decline would be significant, especially for small businesses, the drop is nowhere near as sharp as the travel group had projected.
After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the association forecast a catastrophic 60 percent decline in visitors unless it received $12.5 million in state funds for an emergency marketing campaign. Travel analysts tied the anticipated drop-off to concern about flying and uncertainty about the economy.
The early estimates turned out to be overstated.
Surveys in December and February showed 23 percent and 24 percent declines respectively. And the latest results from 256 respondents point to some recovery.
"There have been some increases, but we've just come through the busiest booking period," said Tina Lindgren, Alaska Travel Industry Association president. "Businesses are still reporting that they're down considerably."
The hardest-hit sectors, according to the latest survey, include hotels, wilderness lodges, cabins and air taxis. Hotels reported bookings down by 28 percent.
Some segments of the industry have not only weathered the crisis but are doing better than last year. Day cruises and charters reported a 3 percent increase in bookings for the coming season. RV rentals jumped 12 percent. And companies that provide tours and activities in multiple locations in Alaska reported a 23 percent climb in reservations, according to the survey.
The state House approved legislation that would give the industry trade group $6 million, but the bill has stalled in the Senate.
"The constituency I represent opposed this funding," said state Sen. Randy Phillips, R-Eagle River, chairman of the Rules Committee, where the legislation bogged down.
"If we give money to the tourism industry, the next people in line will be the fishermen and then the miners. It's a bad precedent to subsidize business."
Phillips said he offered the travel group three alternatives, including a cruise ship head tax, a matching grant or an advance on next year's funding.
"The options were out there, and the options were rejected," he said.