In Depth Alaska: Birders provide a niche tourism market

When birders come to Alaska, they spend more time and money in the state than the average tourist.
Published: Jul. 24, 2022 at 10:46 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - When Alaskans think about tourist season, it tends to bring to mind cruise ships and hundreds of strangers wearing down jackets in the middle of summer in downtown Anchorage. Tourists bring in big money to the state. The Resource Development Council said that in 2018, visitor spending hit $2.2 billion.

A smaller group of tourists is also finding its way to Alaska: birders. A new study from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks says birders have a small but impressive impact on the state’s economy. The study, using data from 2016, shows bird watchers spent $278 million while visiting Alaska.

“What we found is that birdwatchers actually spent about 56 percent more than visitors who did not engage in bird watching,” said Tobias Schwoerer, research assistant professor at UAF and the lead author on the study. “They’re also spending more nights. They’re spending 13 versus 9 nights on average, so four nights on average more than the non-birding visitor.”

Schwoerer found that four out of five birders are independent travelers and while they’re here, birders are doing more.

“They’re also engaging in about twice as many activities when they’re here,” said Schwoerer. “So in the roughly two weeks that they’re here, they’re engaging in, on average, about six activities, versus the normal average visitor, or non-birding visitor, who’s just engaging in about three activities on average. So it all shows that they’re more engaged, they’re longer here, and they are traveling into the more remote areas where you are less likely to see visitors who are not birding.”

With more than 500 bird species documented in Alaska, birders will travel to more remote areas of the state to see them.

“I think Alaska at this point has opportunities to really develop this niche market. It is a niche market. It is, you know, a smaller market then, for example, if you compare it, and this is comparing apples to oranges, with the cruise ship industry,” said Schwoerer. “It’s really for us to take, grab the opportunity and develop more, more of these niche market opportunities with with bird tourism being one of the of these niches.”

To watch the full interview, click the video above.

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