FAIRBANKS - Japan's largest air carrier has cut half of its flights to Fairbanks this winter.
Japan Airlines will have nine direct flights from Tokyo to Fairbanks, down from 18 last year. Fairbanks is a popular winter destination for Japanese tourists, many of whom come to see the aurora borealis.
Colin Lawrence, a Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau employee, said the airline dropped the flights because it is being restructured. The airline hasn't formally announced the reduction, he said.
In 2008, the 18 flights were a crucial part of a projected $4 million in spending injected into the Fairbanks economy by Japanese tourists. That same year, Alaska's Interior was a destination for about 29 percent of Alaska's winter tourists.
Lawrence said interest in visiting Fairbanks is growing in Taiwan and South Korea, and there are enough flights through other carriers to get them here.
"The demand is still there," he said.
The Chena Hot Springs Resort outside Fairbanks is a popular destination for Japanese tourists, but owner Bernie Karl doesn't expect a downturn from last year. He's relying on aggressive marketing and promotion to keep business steady.
The resort's Japan marketing specialist is steering many customers to other travel options, such as direct China Air flights to Anchorage.
Karl said the resort also is being promoted locally with discounts for in-state customers.
"There's a great business out there. They're called Alaskans," he said.