ANCHORAGE - The summer 2004 tourism industry is shaping up, with operators reporting a good number of visitors to Alaska, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
Higher gas prices apparently have not discouraged visitors from getting in their cars, campers and RVs and heading north to Alaska.
The number of motorists cruising up from the Lower 48 is higher than it has been in two years, the association says.
Using statistics from U.S. border stations compiled by the Tok Chamber of Commerce, the association says 12,373 people crossed into Alaska from Canada in May, not counting commercial truckers. That's a 13 percent increase from May 2003.
In June, 28,893 motorists came to Alaska, a 5 percent jump from last year. The arrivals also are stronger than in 2002.
Tok is the first major Alaska community motorists encounter when they cross the border on the Alaska Highway.
Ron Peck, executive director of the statewide tourism association, said his members are generally pretty happy with the way the summer is turning out. He said the number of cruise ship and airline travelers is up, as well.
"We're cautiously optimistic that the season will be as strong or stronger than 2001," Peck said.
The last two tourism seasons in Alaska were down or flat, depending on the operator, because of economic and terrorism concerns after the terrorist attacks, travel experts say.
Some tourism operators had expressed concern this spring that soaring prices at the pump might keep people away. But several said Thursday their fears have proved unfounded.
"We're in the middle of a good season, and everyone I talk to is in the middle of a good season," said Scott Torrison, chief operating officer of CIRI Alaska Tourism, a subsidiary of Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region Inc.
"People are ready to be moving," said John Rusyniak, owner of Cleft of the Rock, a bed-and-breakfast in Tok, 490 miles northeast of Anchorage. Rusyniak is president of the Tok Chamber of Commerce.
Nationally, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas is $1.91, according to Fuel Gauge Report, a service of AAA. A year ago, it was $1.52.
In Alaska, the average price was $2.10 a gallon, according to AAA. That's lower than last month's average of $2.13 cent a gallon.