ANCHORAGE - A survey of Alaska's tourism industry shows advance bookings for next summer's visitor season are down by an average of 23 percent, far below the expected overall drop of 40 to 60 percent.
The poll was commissioned by the Alaska Travel Industry Association, which hired GMA Research of Bellevue, Wash., to survey a cross section of Alaska tourism businesses in late November.
The study supports what the travel group has been saying since Sept. 11, that fewer visitors will travel to Alaska next year.
The main factors expected to keep people closer to home are nervousness about hijackings and terrorism in general, and the slowdown in the U.S. economy.
GMA Research sent out about 800 questionnaires and received 303 responses. It was a blind survey so the names of businesses aren't available, said Mark Morones, spokesman for the travel association.
The hardest hit sectors so far include the car and RV rental business, trains, cruise ships and motor coaches. Their bookings for next summer are off between 31 and 50 percent, the survey indicates.
"I'm extremely concerned," said Tina Lindgren, association president and chief operating officer.
Lindgren said the survey results suggest Alaska's tourism industry is facing a serious problem, although many travelers are still undecided about summer plans and bookings could improve between now and May.
Businesses that target rail travel reported the sharpest drop in advance bookings, according to the survey. Reservations are at half of what they were at this time last year, based on responses to the survey.
"I'm not ready to panic yet," said Pat Gamble, president and chief executive of the Alaska Railroad. "A lot of people are on the fence."
Gamble said he hadn't seen the survey results so he couldn't comment specifically on them. But nothing so far has caused him to be "greatly distressed or pessimistic," he told the Anchorage Daily News.
Pat Flynn, a spokesman for the state-owned rail line, said the Alaska Railroad wasn't included in the survey and that all indications point to reservations being up for next summer. Winter reservations are also up, by about 30 percent, Flynn said.
"That might indicate that Alaskans are taking shorter trips" closer to home for now, Flynn said.