Wrangell by the numbers: Visitor industry continues to show growth

Rain Coast Data, on behalf of the Wrangell Convention and Visitors Bureau, recently released a document examining the economic impacts of the tourism industry on the community. "Wrangell Visitor Industry By The Numbers 2019" looks at everything from changes to the visitor industry, jobs supported by the industry, how many people visit and by what means of travel, and much more.

"Wrangell is a distinct and attractive visitor destination that is growing in popularity as a small cruise ship destination," a visitor overview in the document reads. "Unlike other Southeast Alaska communities that have a more mature visitor industry, Wrangell's charm includes a 'working waterfront' district rather than souvenir and diamond-focused shops ... Wrangell has unique opportunities for nature-based tours and wildlife viewing."

In the summer of 2018, according to the document, about 20,019 tourists visited Wrangell and spend roughly $5.1 million. This represents a six percent increase in visitors from 2017. In 2019, preliminary estimates put the number of visitors up an additional 32 percent, at 26,490.

Tourism makes up the second largest private sector industry in Wrangell, just behind the maritime industry. Last year the visitor industry made up nine percent of all private sector jobs in the city, about 106 jobs and $2.9 million in earnings. However, the industry remains smaller than the regional average. Across Southeast Alaska, the visitor industry represents 18 percent of all jobs.

"That being said, the Wrangell visitor sector appears to finally be growing," the document reads. "Between 2017 and 2018, visitor industry wages grew by 20 percent, from $2.4 million to $2.9 million and the community increased tourism jobs by six percent. Once the numbers are finalized for 2019, a significant increase in jobs and wages is projected."

Visitors to Wrangell travel in four general categories: Cruise ships, yachts, planes and the ferry system. In 2018 cruise passengers made up 75 percent of summer tourists visiting Wrangell, with yachts, air travel and the ferry making up the remaining 25 percent. The ferry system saw a decrease in use by visitors in 2018, compared to 2017 numbers. Air travel was down for summer visitors, it is estimated, but there was an overall increase from 2017 total numbers. Cruise ship and yacht visitors continue to increase. In 2018, there was an estimated 14,991 summer tourists who came to Wrangell via cruise ship, up 10 percent from 2017. There were 1,618 yachters who visited last year.

"In 2019, based on initial estimates, more than 21,000 [cruise] passengers visited Wrangell," the document reads. "This represents a 44 percent increase in total arriving passengers from 2018 ... Total yacht visits were up by 24 percent in 2018 over 2017. The average number of people per each is approximately three, and remained the same as the year before."

While cruise ship passengers make up the largest portion of visitors to Wrangell, they also spend the least. The estimated per-passenger spending for 2018 reports that the average cruise passenger spent $169 in Wrangell. Visitors who come by plane spend the most, an average $650 per person. Ferry passengers and yachters spend an average of $450 and $350, respectively. Of the $5.1 million spent by tourists in Wrangell, roughly $2.7 was spent on excursions. An additional $1.5 million was spent on food and drinks. The remaining amount was spent on hotels, transportation, and retail spending.

The document also contained the results of a 2019 survey by the Wrangell Cooperative Association on what Wrangell residents felt the community's tourism-related needs were. Of the 482 people who took the survey, 36 percent said that more Alaska Native dancing and storytelling should be a high priority. Thirty-four percent said that the creation of a park at the current location of existing freight services was a high priority. Only 14 percent of people surveyed said that growing large cruise ship visitations should be a high priority.

The full "By The Numbers" document can be found online at http://www.raincoastdata.com. It can also be found on the City of Wrangell's website, http://www.wrangell.com.


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