www.akbizmag.com August 2017 | Alaska Business Monthly 77
boosted winter visits to a certain extent, but
Alaska is at a disadvantage because it doesn’t
have permanent marketing staff in China and
other destinations, McCrea says. The Alaska
Travel Industry Association previously had
contract staff that promoted Alaska in major
world markets. State funding that supported
this kind of marketing budget dried up before
the recent wave of Chinese tourists arrived.
Guo estimates that word of mouth and social media are the biggest drivers of Alaska
tourism among Skylar Travel’s clients. Some
people in China have seen Alaska reality TV
shows such as “Deadliest Catch.” More recently Chinese TV shows, including a reality
show filmed here featuring Chinese celebrities, have brought Alaska to the attention of
“I don’t think they’re hit shows. Some people watch it. There is so much television, any
show is competing for viewers,” Guo says.
This year a film crew accompanied a guided sled-dog trip that a group of first-time
Chinese mushers took over the entire Iditar-od trail from Fairbanks to Nome in advance
of the sled dog race.
Guo estimates that about one-third of the
company’s visitors come from the Lower 48
and are largely made up of college students.
Another one-third of Skylar Travel’s clients
come from mainland China. The final one-third originate in Taiwan.
Chinese visitors are trending younger
these days, now averaging in their mid-thir-ties, the US Commerce Department reports.
Chinese visitors are also more likely to travel
independently than they used to be, although
25 percent still take advantage of package
One trend Explore Fairbanks has noticed
is that more Chinese visitors want to try driving the Dalton Highway.
The Dalton Highway, north of Fairbanks,
was built as a service road for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. It remains a remote gravel
road used mainly by large trucks, but it’s
also a world-famous attraction. The highway
is featured on the show “Ice Road Truckers”
and is the only way to cross the Yukon River
and the Arctic Circle on the Alaska Highway
To answer some of the frequent questions
and explain the dangers of driving the high-
way, Explore Fairbanks printed a nine-page
safety guide to the highway in both English
and Mandarin. They may later translate it
into Japanese and German. The remoteness
of the Dalton Highway is important to em-
phasize for visitors who come from major
cities, McCrea says. “You need to understand
that once you get about thirty-five miles out
of Fairbanks, you’re not going to have cell
phone service,” McCree says. “The Chinese
visitors constantly have Wi-Fi access, cell
phone access. It’s sometimes surprising to
them to come up here and realize there are
many parts of the state where you’re not go-
ing to have that kind of connection.”
Many of the more adventurous Chinese
visitors are students at US universities who
come to Alaska during their spring break
vacation. There are more than 300,000 Chi-
nese college students enrolled in US schools.
Spring break visitors are great for Fairbanks
businesses because they often get outfitted
for winter outdoor activities at local shops,
McCree says. “Typically spring break for
a college student is off to Fort Lauderdale
[Florida], but for this [Chinese] market the
draw isn’t just of the Aurora but the Arctic,”
McCrea says. “They want to make the trip up
across the Arctic Circle.” R
Sam Friedman is a freelance reporter. He
lives in Fairbanks.
A group of tour operators from China pose at
the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. The
operators visited Anchorage and Fairbanks at
the end of April for a five-day familiarization tour.
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