Visit Anchorage presented the 2018 Report to the Community on January 18, 2018, at the Dena'ina Center. President & CEO Julie Saupe summed up 2017 and looked ahead to 2018 and beyond, focusing on the most recent findings from local and national research on tourism. She also emphasized the importance for Alaska tourism businesses of customer experience and positive word-of-mouth traveler reviews in her remarks.
"We have to work hard, but more importantly smart. We have to be shrewd, responsible stewards of the resources at our disposal," said Saupe. "And every one of us in this room today has a part to play."
Anchorage tourism saw modest growth in 2017. Visit Anchorage anticipates that hotel revenue will be $215 million for 2017. That means more than $25 million in bed tax revenues – an increase of about 3% over 2016. This is an early estimate; 2017 fourth quarter bed tax reports are not yet available. 2017 was also an exceptional year for meetings sold with an estimated future economic impact of $114 million, up 8% from 2016.
The largest portion of the speech was forward-looking. Saupe referenced the organization's five year strategic plan, approved in summer 2017, as an area of continued focus as the organization seeks the best returns on it programs for tourism and the broader Anchorage municipality community.
Cruise capacity is forecast to be up 20 percent in 2018; making it likely the largest summer for cruise in Southcentral Alaska. Despite the short-term cruise boom, Saupe pointed to another segment as best for sustained, long-term growth and good returns for the community.
"Engaging independent travelers with travel habits aligned with Anchorage product will be ever more important," said Saupe. "...our best results come from travelers who fly up from their homes in the Lower 48, spend at least one overnight in Anchorage and also use a rental vehicle – either car or RV – during their visit."
These "fly/drive visitors" make up an outsize portion of overnight visitation to Anchorage, and since they stay longest, and do a lot of activities, it is likely they spend more. They tend to be high income - making at least $100,000 in household income annually, and are found in close proximity in the Western U.S.
Saupe pointed out that word-of-mouth, in-person recommendations from family and friends are by far the most influential resource.
"Face-to-face recommendations your customers make to their real, flesh and blood family and friends is of paramount importance," said Saupe. "Official destination websites, visitor guides, and face-to-face advice from visitor center staff are strong too."