Tourism: How has COVID-19 affected the industry as a whole?
Tourism is one of Alaska's major economic forces and a big boom for visitors during the summer. More than 46,000 Alaskans depend on tourism for their income, but with a global pandemic affecting just about every major industry, many of those that were eager to welcome people to the 49th state are now out of a job.
2020 was supposed to be a record year for Alaska's tourism sector with 2.4 million visitors expected. Businesses were eager to show off the beauty of the 49th state, that is until Covid-19 brought things to a screeching halt.
"We probably have lost 75%or greater of our advanced bookings, " said Colleen Stephens.
Stephens operates glacier wildlife cruises out of Valdez. Her business survived the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, but says the difference between then and now is people were still traveling.
"Our hope is to be able to have a base of bookings that's going to justify us opening our doors July 1st, but the reality also is that may not happen," she said.
Then there's Dan Oberlatz, Owner of Alaska Alpine Adventures. They run multi-day wilderness trips and typically host about 350 guests a season. Currently, that number is down by half.
"I know I speak for a lot of tourism who will who need to rely on some income this summer. to go from that to where we are now is literally unbelievable," he said.
Back in Anchorage, Joshua Howes, President of Premier Alaska Tours saw not only bookings drop drastically, but his staffing numbers as well.
"It's been very challenging, during the summer months we have about 600 employees the work for us and currently we're down to 12," he said.
A harsh reality echoing throughout the state's tourism industry as businesses try to stay afloat.
"We heard from businesses across the state that the majority of them were going to lose half or saw a decrease of half their business and that was in March and April," said Sarah Leonard, President & CEO of ATIA.
Tourism will look different in the future, but companies are learning to operate in this new normal.
"We're looking at things like masks and sanitizer and social distancing and all those things that go into doing any sort of social gathering like that and we'll continue to adjust as we need to," said Howes.
Although this pandemic put a halt on bookings and business, it's not stopping in-state travel, it's encouraging it.
"Alaska is largely going to be empty and there are going to be fantastic opportunities for Alaskans to really get out and explore their backyards," said Oberlatz.
"It's a challenging time for sure, but we'll get there," added Howes.
As for some of the other tourism businesses looking for a July 1st start date to its season, it's best to check websites and call before making arrangements for in-state travel.
An update for Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises, the company made the difficult decision to cancel its operations for the 2020 summer season.