FAIRBANKS, Ak - The summer tour season is just days away as the first cruise ships to Alaska have already reached their ports of call.
Visitor industry officials are cautiously optimistic the tour industry is on the rebound in the Interior.
The numbers aren't what they use to be in Interior Alaska.
The tourism/travel/visitor industry peaked statewide in 2007 and peaked in the Interior in 2008.
"We've seen continued decline of the highway/ferry market and this is continued decline because it's not anything new. We've seen less and less people coming up the haul road for well over a decade now," said Deb Hickok, president and CEO of Fairbanks Convention & Visitors Bureau.
There is plenty to be optimistic about regarding visitors to the Interior. Recent announcements that major air carriers will set–up summer operations at the Fairbanks International Airport and major cruise lines are offering Interior land tour options bodes well for Fairbanks.
"We know that Princess (Cruises) is returning a ship to the cross–gulf and the cross–gulf is what results in the cruise/land tours. With the return of that ship to the cross–gulf this summer and summer 2012, we do expect a bump up in cruise/land tours," said Hickok.
Fairbanks, as a travel destination, has its challenges. The city relies on a complicated mix of independent travelers and those tourists who option for a land–locked component of their journey.
While the ever–increasing cost of fuel, whether by road vehicles or through the air, has been a factor in the lull of visitors, travel statistics show summer tourists are younger and more affluent than previous years and visitor groups are more multi–generational than before.
"We tend to have a more affluent traveler because we do require more time and money than the average traveler to come so our affluent traveler is a little more resilient than some of the other markets," Hickok said.
All signs show for a stable, if not a modest growth in visitor numbers to the Interior; numbers that small and large tour operators alike are counting on.
Next, the focus will be on those businesses that shape and sculpt their tour package options based on the make up of visitors to the heartland.