Visitor, tax figures show Fairbanks tourism down

Posted: Sunday, July 12, 2009

FAIRBANKS - The spring numbers suggest the summer will not be a robust one for tourism in Fairbanks.

The city of Fairbanks Web site says city bed tax receipts from May were down by about 30 percent compared with a year ago. Numerous tourist attractions have reported a decline in attendance, and the Alaska Railroad says the number of people riding to Fairbanks in the first half of the year fell 12 percent from the same period in 2008.

A drop in tourism is a concern throughout Alaska, but interior cities such as Fairbanks expect a particularly challenging summer.

"I've heard that a lot of folks are hurting," said Dave Worrell of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. "It seems the farther you get away from the water's edge, kind of the worse it is.

"Our big fear is that we are going to lose businesses because of the economic climate this year," he added. "And next year could also be bad. The cruise lines have pulled ships, so we know there are going to be fewer people coming to Alaska, and that is not a good sign."

In May and June, the University of Alaska Museum of the North had 22 percent fewer visitors compared with same months in 2008. Also slumping is the Riverboat Discovery and the El Dorado Gold Mine. Numbers through mid-June are down 30 to 35 percent, company president Ryan Binkley told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

"That's our biggest decline ever," he said. "And it's consistent with what we're hearing around town."

Making matters worse, according to Worrell, is that those who are visiting the state aren't spending like they once did. Jinx Whitaker of the New Horizons Gallery agrees with that assessment, saying fewer high rollers are heading into Fairbanks.

"There's fewer people," Whitaker said. "You can see that on the streets. I tell everyone we're on life support."

Across the street, Carl Cox, who owns Gold Rush Fine Jewelry, said he's had to rely much more on local customers: "Some years are up, some years are down. This one's off considerably."

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