Anchorage conventions top $104 million in ’12

Last year was a record one for conventions held in Anchorage.

The estimated economic impact from conventions for 2012 was $104.8 million, an all-time high according to Visit Anchorage President and CEO Julie Saupe.

That was nearly $5 million more than in 2011, when the impact was estimated at $99 million.

This year, the municipality is on track to do well, but likely won’t exceed the 2012 high. Saupe said she’s expecting an impact of about $100 million this year.

Saupe said that several factors contributed to the record in 2012. Prebookings for the Dena’ina Convention and Civic Center, which opened in 2008, had an impact. Prior to the center opening, several groups had been interested in the city but needed a bigger space.

Once the center opened, many felt ready to start booking it.

The rebound in the economy also helped, she said. Strategic focuses on certain industries also has helped recent bookings, Saupe said.

Visit Anchorage has targeted the oil and gas industry and medical fields, and is seeing good returns from those efforts.

That work could pay off with another record-breaking year in 2014, Saupe said.

“I’m expecting that 2014 likely will exceed 2012,” Saupe said.

The events already booked for 2014 include the National Indian Education Association, which has about 2,000 people coming, the 1,300-person Scoliosis Research Society and a large epidemiology meeting.

Summer growth also has helped push Anchorage’s numbers up, Saupe said.

In past years, Anchorage didn’t have enough hotel space for large conventions and the large number of leisure travels. But in the past few years, a few more have opened that provide some additional room, allowing Visit Anchorage to target some of the larger summer functions.

In June 2014, National Congress of American Indians is coming to Anchorage. That event expects about 1,400 participants.

“That’s very large for a June meeting,” Saupe said.

This year, one of the largest events was a June cyrogenics meeting. The American Astronomical Society also hosted a meeting in the spring, which had 800 delegates.

Events of that size, generally 500 to 1,500 people, typically book two to four years out, Saupe.

That window is slightly shorter now than it was before the economic downturn, she noted.

Economic impact is not the only metric by which it is clear Anchorage is benefitting from visitors.

The municipality has seen record bed tax collections in recent years. Anchorage saw a 7 percent increase in bed taxes in 2012 compared to 2011, and the highest total ever.

“2012 was a great bed tax year,” Saupe said.

This year should be about 5 percent higher than that, setting a new record.

The previous record was $22 million in bed taxes, collected in 2008.

Bed tax income is driven by both the number of visitors and the cost of a hotel room. Saupe said the third quarter typically makes or breaks bed taxes, as it sees high rates and a high number of visitors, generally.

For 2013, the numbers were tracking about 5 percent higher through the second quarter, and Saupe said that in conversations, hoteliers have confirmed that the same seems to be holding true this summer.

“I feel pretty strong that we’ll continue that,” she said. “So another banner year.”

Saupe noted that bed taxes support the city’s tourism industry, and are the funding for the Dena’ina center. The strong collections put Anchorage in a better position for future growth in tourism.

While Visit Anchorage has targeted certain industries to host conventions, government-affiliated events have also helped bolster the convention scene.

The annual Alaska Municipal League meeting, and affiliated events, is one of the largest, bringing more than 1,000 people to Anchorage in November.

The Municipal League, or AML, will meet in Anchorage this year from Nov. 20 to 22, with affiliated events calendared for about a full week.

AML’s Kathie Wasserman said that on the busiest day, about 800 to 1,000 people are at the event held at the Hotel Captain Cook.

The AML staff is here for a week assisting with affiliated events that run for several days before the main conference begins.

“We’ve got people coming in and out for seven days,” Wasserman said.

The affiliated events include a meeting for newly elected officials, and events held by more than half a dozen groups that draw various local government employees, like planners, clerks, mayors, municipal attorneys, municipal assessors, finance officers, managers and the like.

The Alaska Municipal League has met yearly in Anchorage for the past few years.

Previously AML met in different communities each year, but attendance has outgrown the available venues in many places.

“The biggest issue is that we need all the breakout rooms,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman said that the events have many of the same needs as meetings of outside organization — hotel rooms, meeting spaces, and catering — but the Alaska visitors also have some unique impacts.

She tries to build some free time into the schedule, so that visitors can do their shopping or other “city” activities that they can’t do in their home communities.

That keeps cabs, busses and rental cars full as participants squeeze in their errands, she said.

Next year, an extra group will be added to the conference roster.

Wasserman said the National Association of Counties is holding its Western Interstate Region conference in Anchorage in May 2014.

County commissioners from all over the west coast will attend, largely due to Wasserman’s suggestion that the organizers consider Anchorage.

Molly Dischner can be reached at