Tourism numbers are in for the 2012 summer season, and tourism experts say that the results are encouraging. Now, the state and tourism groups are looking at expanding their strategies to bring even more people to Alaska.
The Alaska Tourism Industry Association’s annual convention was held earlier this month in Sitka. According to Sarah Leonard, President of ATIA, there were over 400 attendees representing tourism-centered business from around the state.
One of the discussions each year at the convention is the number of visitors from the previous year. Sarah Leonard says 2012′s numbers are encouraging.
“We received 1.8 million visitors in the  summer season, and that was the first jump in three of four years, where the visitor industry had seen a flat rate of growth,” Leonard said. “So, that’s positive, and along with some of the new investment and strategies from the State of Alaska, the Governor, and the Legislature, we’re predicting a conservative 4 percent growth for next season.”
The tourism industry, local convention and visitor bureaus, and the State of Alaska spend millions of dollars each year in an effort to keep that number growing.
This year, the state is going back to spending money on network television advertising. For years, Alaska’s television ads have been limited to cable TV. Kathy Dunn, Tourism Marketing Manager for the state, explains the return to advertising on network broadcasts.
“It just broadens your reach,” Dunn said. “There are some people who watch national broadcasts or cable exclusively, but there’s a lot of people who cross over and watch all kinds of programming over through course of the day, week, or month.”
“Wherever you can reach people, and as many times as you can reach people, that message starts to sink in, and they’re more likely to take action after seeing your ad.”
Part of this year’s expanded television advertising will also touch on winter tourism, an area that both the industry and the state hope to grow. Kathy Dunn says that her office tries to encourage visitors throughout the year, and says the state is elevating its efforts with regard to winter travel.
“We’ve been working with industry members and the Alaska Travel Industry Association and talking about what winter product is available out there,” Dunn said. “Obviously, if you’re going to promote winter travel, you have to make sure that there’s enough product out there. The hotels, obviously, are open, but are some of the main tour operators or attractions open as well? You want people to come up and have a fabulous vacation, and you want to have lots of different activities for them to choose from.”
Dunn says that the partnership with the tourism industry has allowed the state to put together a “winter inventory” of tourism-related activities that remain open all year to help better spend the more than $18 million that is budgeted for 2013.
The investment of $6 million into television ads is a substantial chunk of the state’s tourism budget, but ATIA President Sarah Leonard says it’s been paying off.
“I think that type of broad-based national television campaign helps raise all boats. It helps keep Alaska competing at a national level for visitors as a destination of choice. It’s been great,” Leonard said. “We’ve seen the return on investment with some of this exposure so far, but we can’t stop. We want to keep promoting and keep Alaska in there competing on the national level so we can continue to see that return on investment.”
New ads, including one focusing on winter tourism, are currently airing in the Lower 48. ATIA, the state, and business owners across Alaska are all hoping that the good return on investment will continue,