As summer approaches, Alaska’s tourism industry prepares to welcome independent travelers

Juneau’s cruise ship docks were empty on April 23, 2020, after sailings were suspended due to the pandemic. (Jennifer Pemberton/KTOO)

As the summer approaches, Alaska’s travel industry is preparing for another uncertain pandemic season.

Widespread vaccine availability has improved the travel landscape in Alaska, but Sarah Leonard, President and CEO of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, said it’s still hard to predict exactly what summer will look like.

“We are shifting toward a hopeful summer of independent visitors as the larger ship season becomes more and more uncertain,” said Leonard.

State and federal leaders have been trying to find ways to bring large cruise ships back to Alaska this year. Leonard said she’s grateful for that, but summer is right around the corner.

‘I do think the window is closing rapidly,” Leonard said. “We’re already here in April, and summer is fast approaching.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Mike Dunleavy proposed spending $150 million in federal relief dollars on efforts to help the tourism industry. And he added a new incentive for travelers coming to the state: Vaccines. Leonard sees the expanded availability as a good thing.

“ATIA’s commitment since the beginning of the pandemic has been to keep our teams and our communities and Alaskans and our visitors healthy and safe,” said Leonard.

Leonard said she’s hopeful about the independent travelers the industry anticipates. She said if the state’s small businesses survive and continue on a path toward recovery, she’ll consider it a successful summer.

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