Tag Archives: tourists

The Tourist Season has begun

With the warmer weather and midnight sun comes the arrival of another summer anomaly: The Tourist. In March and April, we shared the roads with new tour bus drivers, who were learning how to drive while sharing Alaska tidbits over the bus loudspeaker.

Last week, I spotted the first full tour bus in Fairbanks. The bus had traveled the Parks Highway from Denali National Park. The swans, geese and cranes have been here for a few weeks, and now the tourists join the gaggle.

To add insult to injury, for those of us who are accustomed to seeing moose along the roadside, Sunday was National Tourist Day. Where did that celebration come from? Or, is that day, considered a warning? Time to prepare for the inevitable sudden stops for wildlife viewing.

As much as I love having them around, they are still just a moose! Alaska Tip: Pull off the roadway completely before stopping to gawk. The resident behind you will appreciate the effort.

Top Tourists?

The red-breasted sapsucker

A new tourism study released by the University of Alaska Fairbanks turned a few heads recently. The group of tourists that spend the most money and stay the longest in Alaska are birdwatchers. In fact, birders spend twice as much time in Alaska when they visit than the non-birders do. In 2016, birdwatchers spent over $300 million in Alaska.

The study probably shouldn’t have surprised as many people as it did. Alaska is a birdwatching mecca. Alaska is home to the largest concentration of shore birds in the world. There are some 530 species of birds that have been documented in Alaska, 55 of which are considered rare.

So, if you want to see a red-breasted sapsucker, I suggest the rainforest of Southeast Alaska. As for Fairbanks, we have a very active and vocal raven population.

Busy Airport Season?

Fairbanks International Airport

Like the cruise industry, the air travel industry is also predicting more tourists into Alaska, and especially, Fairbanks in 2022. It should be noted here that Fairbanks is not a major travel destination for Alaska. We tend to be a bit of an afterthought, which is fine by most of us.

The Fairbanks International Airport announced that several carriers will return to Fairbanks after a 1-2 year hiatus. United Airlines will return with a non-stop flight to/from Chicago. Delta Airlines will add additional flights with Seattle and Minneapolis. Alaska Airlines will bump flights to Seattle to 5; and service to Anchorage will increase to 8 flights.

Sun Country will return with Saturday flights between Fairbanks and Minneapolis, and Condor Air will return to Fairbanks after two years, with direct, weekly flights to Frankfurt, Germany. Air North will once again be flying between Fairbanks and Whitehorse, YT.

The list of small airlines and charters flying into remote Alaska is extensive.

Unfortunately, one can expect flight costs to soar.

Jumping the glacier?

The Alaska Cruise Ship Industry is (roughly) forecasting a record 1.6 million tourists in 2022. That would be an increase of 18% over the previous record 1.3 million in 2019.

After two disastrous years due to the pandemic, I can see why the industry is desperate for a good year. But record breaking? That seems like a stretch, and might be a bit premature.

Will people be traveling at that level in 2022? Can the cruise ships, and more importantly, the small coastal businesses find the staff to handle those kind of numbers? 2022 will no doubt remain an interesting travel year within the 49th State.

Thunder Mountain Crash

A de Havilland Beaver (DHC-2), flying out of Talkeetna on a flight seeing tour of Denali National Park, tragically crashed near the summit of Thunder Mountain on August 4. The crash site is roughly 14 miles from Denali’s peak.

There were four tourists from Poland on board, as well as the pilot. Initially, word spread that several people on board survived the crash, but that is not the case. All five in the de Havilland perished.

Heavy cloud cover hampered efforts to reach the site in the days right after the crash. The National Park Service eventually was able to send out two crews in helicopters. The first was to check for survivors, and the second was to evaluate the scene for possible recovery. Park rangers were dropped by cable to the broken Beaver, which lay precariously on the mountain side.

After accessing the risk, The National Park Service came to the conclusion Friday, that any attempt to recover the five bodies in the plane would put the rescue crews in too much danger. One look at the photos show why. The Beaver is broken behind the wing, and the tail section is pulling the entire plane down. It’s a 3500 foot drop to the glacier below. Since the crash, 30 inches of snow has fallen, driving up the risk of avalanche.

On Friday, I spent some time downtown, and overheard several tourists complain about the NPS decision. I get why they thought that way, but I respectfully disagree. The risk to a recovery crew would be too great, and as tough as it is to hear it, NPS made the right call.

Photos credit: Denali National Park & Preserve

What’s this?

Explain this to me:

Alaska covers over 590,000 square miles of the most beautiful and diverse country on the planet, has over 3.5 million lakes of at least 20 acres, almost 34,000 miles of tidal coastline, and over 100,000 glaciers.
Alaska is the home of: Denali, at 20,320′ it is the highest peak in North America; Wrangell-St Elias; several active volcanoes; over 12,000 rivers including the Mighty Yukon; five species of salmon; and 445 species of birds.
The state boasts populations of 13,000 trumpeter swans, 30,000 grizzlies, 35,000 bald eagles, 70,000 sea otters, 900,000 caribou and over 140 million sea birds, yet with a human population of just over 700,000.

Folks, that’s a lot of elbow room.

Wally World Camping

With all that said, the demand to “camp” in the local Wal-Mart parking lot has become so great, that the retail store has designated a good percentage of their lot to official pull-through RV parking.

What the hell is up with that? People come to Alaska to “camp” on asphalt? I’m beside myself with confusion.

Is it the bears that scare you?

Top Odd Questions Alaskans get Asked:

10. What time do you turn on the northern lights?

9. How do you keep the animals inside Denali National Park?

8. Are all your vegetables frozen?

7. You can drive to Alaska? I thought it was an island.

6. If Alaska and Hawaii are so close, why do they have such different climates?

5. What kind of currency do you use and what’s the exchange rate?

4. Can I see your green card?

3. How do you know what time it is when it’s always dark?

2. Do you have to use snowshoes or a dog team to go everywhere?

And the No. 1 question Alaskans get is “does everyone still live in igloos?”

My favorite bonus question: “Do you know any Eskimonians?”

Poll conducted by The Daily News-Miner

Tourist Watchers

Migrant Tourist

Comic by Jamie Smith