Empty hotels. Idled tour buses. Quiet streets. Anchorage faces a bleak summer tourism season.

Published: Jun. 16, 2020 at 1:39 PM AKDT
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Thursday afternoon, Daniel Buitrago stood behind the grill at his hot dog stand, Anchor Town Dogs in front of the federal building.

Smoke wafted around him, while onions sizzled and a line of people stood six feet apart grabbing a quick lunch.

"I'm really hoping that the locals come out," he said as he added another reindeer dog to the grill.

Usually during the summer, tourists in Anchorage outnumber the locals. But today, and through most of June, it has seemed like a ghost town.

In the line at Anchor Town Dogs, everyone said they were Anchorage residents.

For the past two months, many of the city's most popular destinations have been shuttered to visitors, leaving hot dog stands, museums, shops, restaurants, bars, hotels and streets almost empty.

By every measure, the coronavirus pandemic has decimated the travel industry across the world--and in Anchorage.

Last year tourism in Anchorage was record-breaking, according to Visit Anchorage. Julie Saupe, the president and CEO of the group, says that the hotel bed taxes during 2019 topped out at $34 million and it was expected that this year would be 5 to 8 percent higher than that.

"We have looked at about 20 percent of what last year's hotel revenues were," Saupe said, "so it's an 80 percent decline."

She described the situation as "devastating."

As the world slowly reopens, people are faced with the reality that life today is different than it was before COVID-19, and will likely remain this way for some time. One of the most significant differences — a bittersweet realization for most — is that there are currently no tourists.

"I think it's discouraging. You know, we've got so much to offer. Especially spring and early summer in Anchorage is fantastic. And I just look at empty sidewalks and think of the business owners who invested so much time, money, sweat and passion into providing great service to visitors, and it is really disheartening," Saupe said.

According to a survey by the Alaska Travel Industry Association, Southcentral has seen the highest number of cancellations as a result of COVID-19 with Southeast closely following.

ATIA also reports that the cruise industry had the highest percentage of estimated loss this year and that the lodging sector could have the highest potential layoffs.

Theses losses inspired ATIA to start a campaign, Show Up For Alaska, which encourages locals to explore the state.

"Now is the time –– to explore our own backyard. Do all those things you've always wanted to do. From walking on a glacier to watching whales breach, from kayaking hidden coves to taking an epic road trip. Camp under the midnight sun and watch the northern lights when the days get shorter– come explore. Show up for Alaska, for your neighbors, and for our small businesses," reads the travel website.

Down the street from the hot dog stand, Terri Russi, the manager for the Historic Anchorage Hotel and Grizzly Gifts watered the freshly planted hanging flower baskets.

She's disappointed visitors won't be around to admire the colorful displays.

"It breaks my heart. It's like, 'Okay, we'll see you in 2021,' " Russi said.

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