Visit Anchorage hosted the Report to the Community on February 4, 2021. The annual presentation contains key performance metrics from the year past, and a forecast of what’s
in store for tourism in the year ahead.

2020 in Review

Visit Anchorage President & CEO Julie Saupe summed up the pandemic’s immediate, immense effects on travel in 2020, and the specific impacts in Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska. A sharp decline in travel meant industry job losses, decreases in business revenue, and a pause on meetings and convention business for the city. Though by some measures Anchorage fared better than other U.S. communities, it was still a devastating year.

Anchorage’s airport saw a 57% drop in passengers in 2020. Annual hotel demand was down 33% year over year, and hotel revenue for the year was down approximately 52%. Cancelled 2020 meetings meant $13 million in lost economic impact, though two thirds of that business rebooked for future years – preserving more than $9 million in future economic benefit. Visit Anchorage anticipates bed taxes of $13.2M for 2020, down from $31.1M in 2019.

Visit Anchorage’s work last year focused on serving potential visitors, partners, and clients in an ever-evolving situation, and supporting, preserving, and advocating on behalf of the industry.

“Through an unbelievable set of circumstances and challenges, you have persevered. We have a great community of people in tourism, in Alaska,” said Saupe.

2021 Forecast & Trends

Full recovery may take years, and travel’s success is dependent on successfully addressing COVID. Still, there are encouraging signs for the year ahead.

“We all have a part to play as individuals, as business leaders, and as healthy hosts and citizens,” said Saupe.

Visit Anchorage plans to redouble efforts to attract and serve independent travelers. Pre-pandemic, independent travelers were 50% to 60% of Anchorage’s overnight visitation. Consumer demand for places and experiences aligned with Anchorage’s natural strengths have increased during the pandemic. Stated interest in Alaska and Anchorage remains high among likely travelers hinting that the community may be at the top of travelers’ lists, particularly among Western U.S. options, according to recent research in the State of the American Traveler. Saupe also emphasized the importance of efforts encouraging longer stays. While visitor volume may increase in the coming months as more people feel confident traveling, 2021 is unlikely to approach the record-setting volume of 2019 and 2018.

“We’re committed to presenting the best and broadest picture of our community, it’s product offerings, and what visitors can see and do. We aim to capitalize on the current, high interest in Alaska. There’s a chance also to take advantage of pent-up travel demand, making sure when they do decide to go, they go big with their dream trip to Alaska.”

“There may be an opportunity here to rebuild for the future,” noted Saupe, “with a product base and itineraries that are more diversified and provide an even more appealing mix in the eyes of travelers already dreaming of Alaska.”

The presentation took place the same day Canada extended a cruise ship ban in the country’s waters, likely ending the Alaska cruise season. While the news is a major setback, Saupe pointed
to an immediate uptick in calls from cruise agents asking for land options for their clients.

Next Steps

Visit Anchorage plans to put $3.3 million into promotion for Anchorage in 2021, deploying campaigns when the timing is right. That represents approximately 60% of the resources put to work promoting travel to Anchorage pre-pandemic, a result of savings from the organization’s cost-cutting and preservation work in the immediate fallout of the pandemic, and Report to the Community shared details of new publications such as the meeting planner guide, ads, and digital work done using a grant from the Municipality of Anchorage’s CARES Act. Each designed to better appeal to future Anchorage travelers and tastes altered by the pandemic.

The new Official Guide to Anchorage is being distributed now, with 150,000 copies for advance distribution to consumers as they plan. will see a major facelift in Q2 2021, work that started before COVID-19 but continued to better welcome the changing traveler. Visit Anchorage also updated ad creative and messaging using research findings to better zero in on the next likely Anchorage travelers.

View Report to the Community presentation on YouTube.