86 Alaska Business | February 2018 www.akbizmag.com
agency that tracks visitors and gathers data on
visitor activity, data including destinations and
spending and level of satisfaction.
The biggest segment of visitors in 2016, 55
percent, visited Alaska as cruise ship passengers; 40 percent visited by air travel; and 5
percent were highway/ferry travelers. A good
majority, 79 percent, came to Alaska on vacation and nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, embarked on a multi-day recreational trip, with
36 percent visiting as independent travelers.
The most popular region for outside travelers to visit is Alaska’s southeast followed by
southcentral, the interior, southwest, and the
far north—where just 2 percent of the year’s
visitors headed. Juneau was the most popular
port, with 61 percent of visitors hitting the city.
Alaska’s tourism figures are likely going to
continue increasing given that repeat travel
continues to grow, from 30 percent in 2006 to
40 percent in 2016. The Summer 2016 Alaska
Visitor Statistics Program study posed a new
question to tourists regarding what activities
are most anticipated during a repeat visit. Answers ranged from fishing and wildlife viewing
to the Northern Lights and visiting Denali.
The top three Alaska visitor activities in 2016
were reported to be shopping, wildlife viewing,
and cultural activities. But this year that list of
popular activities will likely expand given some
unique opportunities. An ABC News report
in November revealed tourists are flocking to
view the increasing horde of polar bears arriving earlier than usual to feast on a boneyard
located in the village of Kaktovik, situated on
Barter Island on the state’s north coast. In fact,
ABC News describes it as a tourist “boom” for
the town that’s home to 239 residents.
Yet while Alaska’s Northern Lights and
New Recreational Programs
natural scenic landscapes will still draw most
tourists’ attention, this winter season fea-
tures new and unique excursions from travel
and tour operators.
One such new recreational opportunity is
John Hall’s Alaska Cruises & Tours new eight-day tour called “Alaska’s Winter Wonders.”
It starts in Fairbanks and takes visitors on
an Arctic journey south through the state—
offering late-night Aurora viewing and visits to
sled dog kennels and the Arctic Circle before
arriving at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood.
For those who enjoy traveling by snowmobile, Nautique Sky Snowmobile Tours offers
day excursions and night Aurora viewing on
trails just north of Fairbanks. Fairbanks’ Last
Frontier Mushing Co-Op offers dog mushing
tours (mushing is the state sport) as well as
a mushing school. Upon graduation students
get an official certificate.
For beer lovers, the top stop may be a Big
Swig Tour, featuring multiple stops at local
brewers. New this year is the Alaska Crafted
Tour with tastings at several craft breweries
including Girdwood Brewing and Double
Shovel Cider Co.
Those more interested in fishing than brew
might want to check out Salmon Berry Travel
& Tours, which is putting an updated twist
on its traditional Iditarod excursion. The
ten-day trip includes travelling the race path,
checking out the Northern Lights, and meeting local family travel writer Erin Kirkland.
There’s also a new half-day eco tour with a
guided hike in the local boreal forest.
The Alaska Zoo is Hopping
as the Train Travels On
The Alaska Zoo, home to more than one hundred arctic and sub-arctic species, boasts its
annual Zoo Lights display, and visitors can
go beyond the zoo’s trails with a program
called “Special Encounter,” which is offered
from September through May. These tours
provide a behind-the-scene view of zoo wildlife and those who care for the animals.
The Alaska Railroad is beefing up its excursions beyond its weekly winter Aurora
Express trip—a twelve-hour journey in a
three-car diesel locomotive averaging thirty
miles an hour through more than 300 miles
of forest, mountains, and tundra between
Anchorage and Fairbanks.
The railroad is partnering with the Northern Alaska Tour Company on a new trip,
“Denali in a Day,” out of Fairbanks. The trip
includes a narrated drive to Denali National
Park with a stop in Nenana and a visit to the
Murie Science and Learning Center and even
provides a guided snowshoe tour in Denali.
There’s also the railroad’s Talkeetna
Pie Making package, which is a favorite of
Meghan Clemens, who serves as the railroad’s
marketing and communication manager for
passenger sales. Participants catch the train
from Anchorage on a Saturday morning for
midday arrival in Talkeetna. During the overnight stay at the Talkeetna Roadhouse visitors
are offered a hands-on class on how to make a
Talkeetna Roadhouse Pie.
“There’s just the experience of riding on
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is home to a small herd of wood bison, the largest land
animal in the western hemisphere.