Like many Alaskans, the more than 600 members of the Alaska Travel Industry Association are deeply concerned by the rise in Alaska’s COVID-19 case counts. As the numbers rise, our businesses wonder if they will be able to keep their doors open. For many, the answer is “no.”
ATIA’s first priority is — and always will be — the safety of Alaska’s visitors, our teams and our communities. Since the start of the pandemic, ATIA has taken steps to develop industry safety protocols and guidelines to help businesses adapt to new requirements and operating practices. But our businesses can’t do it alone.
Alaskans have a reputation of supporting each other through good times and bad, and now more than ever, Alaska’s tourism businesses need your help. We ask all Alaskans to help our friends, neighbors, and small businesses by wearing masks, washing your hands, practicing social distancing and staying home if you have any COVID-19 symptoms. We need to get COVID numbers down so visitors can return.
In normal years, Alaska’s visitor industry is the state’s second-largest private sector employer, supporting 1 in 10 Alaska jobs. In 2019, more than 2.25 million visitors came to Alaska — traveling by cruise ship, air, highway and ferry.
This year was a drastically different story.
In 2020, 99.9% of scheduled cruises to Alaska canceled, flights were reduced and road traffic prohibited due to border closures. In an informal survey by ATIA, more than 85% of businesses reported losing more than half their anticipated revenue in 2020 as a result of COVID-19. Our businesses cannot take another year of reduced — or no — visitors to our parks, attractions, activities or communities.
You may be thinking tourism doesn’t affect you personally, however in many communities, tourism is the largest source of revenue for local budgets. Without visitors, communities cannot collect sales taxes, bed taxes, vehicle rental taxes, land use fees or other unrestricted revenue. As communities look to balance budgets next fiscal year, they will need to weigh the costs of public safety, infrastructure and other services through the lens of lost tourism revenue. So, in fact, the hit on Alaska’s tourism sector is a hit on all of us.
Alaska’s tourism businesses rely on visitors’ perception that Alaska is safe to experience with our wide open spaces, our great outdoors and rich cultural stories we can share throughout all seasons. We ask everyone to chip in now and get COVID under control so we can help Alaska businesses — our friends and neighbors — stay open and be ready for business next spring and summer.
ATIA supports Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s call to Alaskans to take immediate steps to curb the spread of COVID-19. As Alaskans, we can all do our part to ensure Alaska’s tourism operators can work toward recovery in 2021. We can meet this challenge by working together to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Sarah Leonard is the president and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association in Anchorage.