Editor’s Note: This is the third and final installment of a three-part blog series looking at economic trends in Southeast Alaska.
The tourism industry in Southeast Alaska is experiencing significant sustained growth, according to a new study.
The Southeast Conference, a Juneau-based economic development organization, issued the report recently that found employment in Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry to have added 330 new jobs in 2013, a five-percent gain over the prior years.
That follows seven-percent growth between 2010 and 2012 —for a total increase of 730 jobs in the last three years.
“When you combine air travel, cruise ships and ferry arrivals, Southeast Alaska hosted just over two million passengers in 2013, a 3.4-percent increase from the year before,” said Meilani Schijvens, the report’s author. Schijvens owns and operates Rain Coast Data, an economic research firm in Juneau.
Cruise ships travelling to Southeast Alaska’s Tongass National Forest are driving much of the growth. Between 2010 and 2013, cruise passenger traffic to the Tongass increased by 14-percent, or 124,000 more visitors, according to the report.
“2014 has been another good year for Southeast Alaska’s visitor industry, despite a slight decline in cruise ship passenger numbers due to deployment decisions. We are looking forward to a growth year in 2015 which translates into a promising outlook for jobs and business success,” said Kirby Day, manager of port operations and passenger logistics for Princess Cruises in Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, French Polynesia and South America.
Day also chairs the Visitor Products Cluster Working Group, an initiative to build public-private partnerships to stimulate the regional economy.
“The number of visitors looking for an opportunity to experience the Tongass National Forest continues to grow. The visitor industry and the Forest Service are partnering to review and improve access. This partnership is an important opportunity to make sure we’re able to successfully provide additional access in a responsible and sustainable manner. It’s good for business and good for our communities.”
Southeast’s visitor industry has also benefited from the entry of Delta Airlines to the market. In June and July of this year, the number of airline passengers arriving in Juneau rose by 12-percent or 8,000 passengers compared to same time last year.
The visitor industry continues to be one of Southeast Alaska’s largest private employers. It accounts for 15-percent of all regional jobs and nearly 21-percent of all private-sector jobs.
Besides creating employment, tourism also contributes to the economy by way of visitors’ purchasing power. Visitors to Southeast Alaska spent $595 million in 2013, 10-percent growth over the prior year, the report finds, citing research by McDowell Group, a Juneau firm.
The industry’s outlook is strong as the country recovers from the Great Recession of 2008.
“Now that the U.S. economy is more or less back on track, people have more disposable income and they’re using it on travel,” Schijvens said.