Visit Anchorage hosted the Report to the Community on February 3, 2022. President and CEO Julie Saupe recapped 2021 travel and tourism, and outlined 2022’s prospects, opportunities, and challenges. Didn’t make it to the event? You can review a recording of the full Report to the Community, and we’ve summarized five key takeaways:

Up-front investment in 2021 marketing and promotions was key for Anchorage.

Anchorage made gains last year largely because state and local grant relief programs kept tourism businesses on their feet through tough times, and also fueled a robust domestic marketing program during travel’s rebound. Funds from the federal CARES and ARPA packages flowed to Alaska. Through state and locally-directed grants, Anchorage was able to field a big marketing push and foster a travel recovery.

Saupe recognized the importance of work done by Alaska’s federal, state, and local lawmakers to invest in travel and tourism and lay the foundations of 2021 gains.

2021 beat all expectations.

COVID loomed large at the start of 2021, with intent to travel rising and falling with surges. In February of 2021, Canada banned cruise ships from its waters, effectively eliminating the 40% of visitors Anchorage typically sees from cross-gulf cruises in a year.  

And yet, because of the up-front investment in marketing, and the summer rebound in domestic independent travel, Anchorage far outpaced 2020 performance, even nearing – but not equaling – 2019 benchmarks. Airport arrivals increased dramatically year over year. Length of stay increased as more travelers used Anchorage as a base of operations. Hotel demand neared 2019 levels for some months of the summer. As a result, 2021 bed taxes are expected to reach $30 million, more than double 2020 and 97% of 2019 collections.  

2022 could be a huge year, but there’s also a high degree of uncertainty.

The number of airline seats into Anchorage is expected to increase again, up 6% compared to 2019. Cruise passengers should return to Southcentral Alaska communities. Local businesses say they are gearing up for a big year. And Anchorage has already spun up its largest travel marketing and promotion campaign. Despite all the positive signals, the prospects for tourism are ultimately dependent on national and global conditions.

“After two long, hard years, we might be beyond the toughest of this,” Saupe said. “But at the same time, there’s a great deal of lingering uncertainty. COVID remains the looming threat that – depending on developments – could erode enthusiasm for travel and threaten our community’s hard-fought gains.”

Anchorage is deploying its biggest marketing and promotions push yet.

In part because of research and testing done last year, Anchorage is poised to sharpen its pitch to prospective travelers. And because of gains in 2021, it heads into a new year in a strong position. Provided demand for travel remains high, Visit Anchorage will deploy $6.2 million directly in promotions and marketing, an even bigger push than was possible pre-pandemic.  

“We intend to make the most of interest and enthusiasm,” Saupe said. “We anticipate a more competitive environment from other destinations this year. [Last year] many of our competitors were relatively quiet. We don’t expect that luxury this year.”

COVID accelerated several emerging challenges.

COVID is not solely responsible for supply troubles, a difficult hiring market, or the increasing focus on sustainability needs, but COVID brought these challenges into sharp relief. These broader concerns have big implications for Alaska travel in future years.

“Focusing on these now will ensure continued success in years to come. I’ll add that most of these aren’t tourism-specific issues, or solely found here in Alaska. They are everywhere, affecting us all. And that means they require attention at the highest levels,” Saupe said.