ANCHORAGE - Alaska's tourism industry is flat and now on a downward slide that will only get worse next year with 150,000 fewer cruise ship passengers visiting the state.
A panel of experts attending a tourism summit on Thursday at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage said the outlook is not good.
"Next year won't be worse. It threatens to be much worse," said moderator John Tracy.
So far this year, Alaska is seeing fewer visitors, said Alaska Travel Industry Association President Ron Peck. By the end of 2009, Alaska would be seeing double-digit percentage declines from the nearly 2 million visitors in 2008, he said.
If the trend continues in 2010, the state will return to visitor levels last seen in 2004 after years of growth in the tourism industry, Peck said.
"We need to work collectively to reverse this trend," he said.
Peck said the tourism industry employs about 40,000 people in Alaska, making it one of the top three industries in the state. He blamed the downturn on the worldwide recession.
"At the end of the day, the world economy is impacting us," he said.
He encouraged the state to spend more money to market tourism in Alaska.
Gov. Sean Parnell vowed to work with the Legislature and tourism industry officials in seeking solutions to the downturn.
"I understand we are in this together," he said.
Rick Erickson with Cruise Line Agencies of Alaska, pointed to the $50 head tax on cruise ship passengers passed by initiative in 2006 for why cruise ships are making fewer ports of call in Alaska. Declines in cruise ship passengers range from 13 percent in Ketchikan and Skagway to 41 percent in Sitka and Whittier, he said.
Before the initiative, it cost cruise ship lines $660 to tie up in Sitka. Now, it costs $41,000. That makes it more expensive for the Carnival Spirit to visit Sitka than Miami, he said.
"They're packing it up," Erickson said. "They want to come back. We just need to show them Alaska is open for business."