Any Southeast Alaskan appreciates those rainy day moments when a ray of sunshine pierces the cloud cover.
We stop in our tracks to absorb the sudden warmth, gaze into the blue sky beyond and are reminded that life here comes in many lovely colors besides gray.
That’s what Thursday’s news about visitorship to Alaska feels like after hearing months of dark reports about state budget deficits, revenue shortfalls, oil patch cutback and the possibility of a state economy in recession. The fact that 1.78 million out-of-state people visited Alaska between May and September of 2015 — the most since the tracking program began in 1985 — is a bolt of sunshine reminding us that there are positive economic things happening in Alaska.
According to the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program VI Interim Visitor Volume Report, summer visitorship in 2015 wasn’t just a tiny increase over the previous year — it was a whopping 7 percent above the same period in 2014.
Cruise passenger volume increased by 3 percent. Air traffic grew by 13 percent.
“Strong increases were seen in personal vehicle traffic on all four highways connecting Alaska with Canada,” according to the state Division of Economic Development announcement.
The only downside, which is a big one for Southeast Alaska, is that ferry passenger traffic leaving Alaska declined by 12 percent.
“The decline in ferry volume is largely attributable to ship repair and schedule changes,” according to the announcement.
Overall, a record-setting visitor year is good economic news for the entire state, as well as right here in Ketchikan where we see the positive economic effects from the visitor industry and are looking forward to another strong visitor season in 2016.
While we hear the very real numbers of state budget deficits and other economic issues facing Alaska, it’s good to know we have an industry that continues to contribute a reported annual economic impact of $3.9 billion and employment of 46,000 people during the peak season.
We should continue to support the industry in reasonable ways. And, it’s important that we address the things that can be improved upon, such as the reliability issues that negatively affected the Alaska Marine Highway System in 2015.
We’ve got a good thing going, and news of a record-breaking 2015 is a bolt of sunshine on an otherwise very gray day.
— Ketchikan Daily News,