The 2011 season is not without some big question marks. Will the disaster recovery in Japan keep tourists home? What about the tornadoes and floods in the Lower 48, not to mention rising fuel prices?
Dee Buchanon of CIRI Alaska Tourism says the state has one thing in its favor – the explosion of Alaska-themed reality shows like Ice Road Truckers and Sarah Palin’s Alaska.
"No matter what you think about politics," Buchanon told the chamber, "our former governor's rise to fame really puts Alaska on everyone's mind as a visitor destination."
Julie Saupe with ACVB says there are other programs in the pipeline that will help promote Alaska. A Travel Channel show, "Burt the Conqueror," is featuring the Fur Rondy this month. Another big boost should come this fall with the premiere of a movie filmed in Alaska, "Everybody Loves Whales."
Even so, industry experts stressed the importance of continuing to spend money on TV ads in the Lower 48 to sustain the turnaround.
John Binkley, president of the Alaska Cruise Association, says worldwide, the cruise industry is growing, but competition for a share of this new market is tough.
In Alaska, the cruise ship industry anticipates a sluggish recovery, with only a slight uptick in passengers from 2010 – about 9,000 passengers, or a one percent increase.
Binkley says changes comes more slowly, because the industry makes decisions about its fleet at least 18 months in advance.
The industry is projecting about 887,000 Alaska passengers this season, compared to more than a million in 2007.
"Let's look ahead to 2012," Binkley told the chamber. "And that's where you will really start to see the impact of the Governor reaching out and the changes that were made."
Binkley credits Gov. Sean Parnell with helping to lower industry taxes and improve the regulatory climate. He says next year Princess will bring another ship to Alaska -- "a grand class ship that will translate into about 50,000 more visitors to Alaska."
As the chamber watched TV ads in the new "Alaska Beyond Your Dreams" campaign at the Egan Center, a dream tourist was checking out the visitor's center just around the corner.
Sean MacLeod is here for the aerospace medical convention at the Dena'ina Center, which has brought 1,600 people to Anchorage. The convention was booked in 2005.
"And now, a mere six years later," says AVCB President Julie Saupe, "here they are in town spending their money."
Saupe says there's very little instant gratification in the tourism business, because the pay-out is often years down the road.
MacLeod will no doubt contribute to Alaska tourism’s bottom line this year. He and a colleague like to try different foods, so they plan on hitting a lot of restaurants during their four days here, as well as take in some tours.
"I'm more focused in on animals, so I'm trying to find something we’ll be able to see some wildlife, definitely things we wouldn’t necessarily see in Houston, Texas."
And MacLeod says he's prepared to spend.
"Typically when I go on a business trip, I try to make sure I have enough money, where I won't restrict myself, where I won't have any regrets."
MacLeod says he uses business trips to scout out vacations for his family – and Alaska might be a possibility. Perhaps not this year, but someday.