Fear of flying


Between the new-found fear of travel by air and the desperate attempts of Alaska communities to protect themselves from SARS-CoV-2, the global coronavirus has put a chokehold on the Alaska tourism industry, but still there remain those who lust to experience the land of the midnight sun in its summer splendor.

Back in Sharon Springs, New York, a tiny town of less than 600 some 150 miles north of the worst of the nation’s COVID-19 death and chaos in what is widely known as the “Big Apple,” Steve Hotaling dreams his dreams of the wild north.

“I would move there to get the hell out of New York like my parents did, but my wife doesn’t like the cold,” he texted Friday.

Instead, he is settling for a vacation in the land where the last American frontier still wrestles with the last American wilderness, and Hotaling not about to abandon that vacation come hell or high COVID.

“I just wanna go fishing and get away from all the stuff going on around here,” he said. “I am more worried about the riots than the COVID stuff.”

New York City has been rocked by protests since a cop in Minneapolis killed 46-year-old George Floyd by kneeling on his neck while he pleaded that he could not breathe.  The law enforcement officer who committed that act has been charged with murder and is in jail. Three other law enforcement officers on the scene have been charged with aiding and abetting Floyd’s death. 

But that has not satisfied protesters in cities across the country. Most of the protests – as was the case with one in Anchorage – have been peaceful, but New York City erupted into violence. ABC7 News in the city described the neighborhood of “SoHo like a war zone after stores destroyed by looters, riots during George Floyd protests.” 

The riots come on the heels of the COVID-19 outbreak that killed so many NYC residents that bodies were left piling up in freezer vans. 

 The city has driven the New York state death rate to 1,563 per million, according to the COVID-19 tracker at Worldometer. 

That is more than four and a half times the U.S. national average of 339 per million, and close to three and half times the rate in Sweden, a country that has been criticized for taking a too lackadaisical approach to the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

“Sweden Stayed Open. A Deadly Month Shows the Risks,” the New York Times headlined in May. 

Given the death toll in the U.S. Northeast – COVID-19 fatality leader New York is followed in the national rankings by New Jersey with 1,367 per million dead; Connecticut, 1,137 per millions dead; and Massachusetts, 1,058 per million dead, according to Worldometers – some have suggested Alaska should market itself as the place to escape from big city death and madness.

Though many Alaskans worry about COVID-19, the state death rate of 14 per million is less than 1 percent of that of New York and second only to that of Hawaii among U.S. states, according to Worldomters.

Maybe a COVID-19 safe zone in a land that state labor economist Neil Fried has already suggested as a climate-change refuge could attract some tech entrepreneurs to help offset the economic losses expected from two of the biggest and most important industries – tourism and petrochemical production – being unable to convert to work-at-home operations.

While the visitor industry has been hit by travel restrictions and travelers’ fears, the oil industry has been torpedoed by a drop in global demand for oil as businesses everywhere have slow down or shut down. 


Against this backdrop, people like Hotaling offer a ray of hope to the once nearly $5 billion per year visitor industry that employed more Alaskans than any other.

The state’s mystique has always been its best sales pitch and clearly that remains.  There is a market for what Anchorage once promoted as the “Big Wild Life” and what the Alaska Travel Industry Association in 1995 warned baby boomers they should see “B4UDIE.”

The B4UDIE campaign made Forbes’ list of the 10 best travel campaigns of the year with travel writer Peter Greenburg observing that “it speaks to that inner clock of the bucket list.”

Bucket lists haven’t gone away. COVID-19 might even remind some people that those lists could be closer than once thought.

Hotaling said he’s seriously looking forward to escaping America to do some fishing in what many consider an angler’s paradise.

“I don’t consider myself a tourist,” he added. “LOL. I am just a normal, real person and I don’t know if I would advertise Alaska a place to escape, but on the other hand, the people causing the issues (here) may need a month dropped in the mountains to figure out their life.

“If they survive and make it out, I bet they never act like this again.”

The Floyd protests have left many Americans with mixed feelings. Some demonstrations that started out as well-intentioned protests against police brutality in the wake of Floyd’s death have deteriorated into little but street rage against almost everything.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., wrote an op-ed for the New York Times that left the newspapers’ staff angry that he had been allowed to accuse U.S. “elites” of having excused an orgy of violence in the spirit of radical chic, calling it an understandable response to the wrongful death of George Floyd. Those excuses are built on a revolting moral equivalence of rioters and looters to peaceful, law-abiding protesters.”

Journalists, psychologists and experts of various sorts from the East Coast to the West Coast are now debating what went wrong to spark the violence. Alaska has its own problems with violence – the data indicates this is a dangerous state in which to be a woman and even more so a woman in some rural areas – but it is easy to think of the far north as a wild place steeped in wild beauty and unsullied by the problems of humankind.

That is the state’s tourism market niche. In many ways, it is probably more saleable now than ever.

The problematic question is how to get people here with cruise lines shut down for the summer, some airlines in serious financial trouble, and many travelers simply afraid. Some, like Hotaling, will continue to come, but 53 percent told The Harris Poll in late May that they were “putting off leisure travel until at least 2021.”

An earlier poll found 48 percent saying they weren’t flying until the pandemic is over, and how that might be defined is anyone’s guess given that some virologists now believe COVID-19 might linger on forever like a deadlier version of the common flu as Connor Bamford from Queen’s University Belfast wrote in The National Interests. 

A 50 percent cut in travel this year could cost the Alaska economy $2.5 billion or more. Continuing fears of COVID-19 would only make things worse.

Clearly the state is going to need to find a whole lot more Hotalings.

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34 replies »

  1. Say what? The NY Times
    “For months, scientists have warned that asymptomatic people infected with the virus are still capable of spreading Covid-19. It has been seen as one of the insidious characteristics of the contagion and a factor in its ability to have infected now more than 7 million people globally.

    But on Monday, a scientist for the World Health Organization said that asymptomatic transmission was not a significant factor in the spread of the virus, a statement with far-reaching implications. It has created some confusion among experts seeking more information from the W.H.O.

    “That fundamentally changes our understanding of how this virus is spread and what we should do as a response,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of Harvard’s Global Health Institute. “This is not a minor, technical clarification. The implications of what is being said are very, very substantial, and it requires a lot more context and explanation than W.H.O. is providing right now.”

  2. The other part of this Gestapo “travel declaration form” is that “essential workers” are exempt from this government monitoring and mandate?
    How can pilots and military folks avoid the testing when we have seen that some of the very first cases of Covid in Alaska were from pilots?
    This whole segregation of Americans b/w essential and non-essential is wrong under our Constitution…there are NO 2nd class citizens in America and these over reaching government measures must be fought in court before there is NO American Society left.

    • AF,

      Comparing revenue to the state government and economic benefit to the state are two completely different things, and in either case tourism is nowhere close to resource extraction. I’m not discounting the economic benefit of tourism, just being honest about it’s economic benefit.

      • Yep, oil revenue provides state and muni jobs. The oil revenue goes mostly to pay State employees salaries. . No doubt. But tourism provides more jobs in the private sector. Again I say: tell all 44,000 private sector employees that are dependent on this “low margin” industry that they are less important than those employees in State Govt. Thing is that while these private sector workers and businesses will be dramatically suffering because of the loss of the tourism
        dollars, the State workers will be merrily receiving their monthly pay. It is about time the leaders in state and muni governments start opening the State back up. Their unnecessary harsh restrictions will crush the private sector. If they do not, then you will certainly when the debate about which sector has the greater economic benefit.

      • To suggest that resource extraction only supports government jobs is intellectually dishonest, at best. Resource extraction is the largest part of the private sector economy hands down. Instead of trying to make this an either or proposition, perhaps acknowledging the obvious facts that resource extraction is the dominant industry in this state is a good first step.

        We are in a global pandemic. Even if the state opened up to allow visitors without any safeguards at least half of the tourists will not come because the cruise ship industry is shutdown. On top of that, how many people are going to travel during a global pandemic 25%, 50%, 75% of the normal visitors? Reality is a tough pill to swallow sometimes. I understand that the tourism industry will take a beating this year because of the global pandemic, the Alaskans who live here and own tourism based business need to adjust their business model just like everyone else is doing.

      • Steve O, I would like to think that you simply did not read my comment. But am pretty sure you did which makes your reply just wrong!
        I never said that resource extraction “only supports government jobs”. I said that “oil revenue goes mostly to pay State employees salaries.” Check out the definition of “most”. Than perhaps you will better understand what I meant. And maybe even agree.
        To intentionally mis quote me is not “intellectually dishonest at best” as you claim I was. It is simply dishonest! It is one thing to agree to disagree when reasonable minds differ. It is altogether different to support your arguments by being dishonest.

      • AF,

        I never quoted you, let alone misquoted you.

        Oil revenue doesn’t mostly go to pay state employee salaries either. Mostly oil revenue goes to keeping the business afloat. Oik revenue is used to pay for production of the leases, to pay for operation of the oil field, to pay the employees of the oil company, and to pay the shareholders…you know keep the business in business.

        If you are saying that the taxes paid on oil revenue that goes to the state and a large portion of that goes to pay state employees, then I clearly misunderstood what you meant. But most of the tax money goes to pay for all the bloated government we have in this state. State employees salaries aren’t mostly made up of oil revenue, their salaries are mostly made up of the taxes levied upon oil companies, which further illustrates the point that resource extraction is the dominant industry of this state.

  3. Ran across this and thought, hmmm, sound familiar?
    “Britain introduced a 14-day quarantine period for international arrivals on Monday despite warnings from its biggest airlines that the move will decimate domestic tourism and damage exports.
    We cannot go on like this as a country,” Chief Executive John Holland-Kaye told Sky News. “We need to start planning to reopen our borders. “

    • Ok, when I referred to revenues received by the state it was clear that I was referring to monies paid by the oil producers to the state which was in turn used by the State to run the Govt and that a majority of those funds went to pay employee salaries. Call it tax or royalty or what ever. It did ultimately come from Oil company revenues. It was clear that I was referring to what was paid to the State which will be around 1.65 Billion which is considerably less than the economic benefit from tourism, which you referred to as “ low margin.” And perhaps you did not actually quote me but you used specific language to support your claim that I was intelligently dishonest at best. And to be charitable, that was misleading at best. Have the last word if you wish. I am finished with this exchange.

      • AF,

        You cannot compare the entire economic output of an entire industry against the tax revenues derived by the state. If you want to compare the tax revenue the state receives from tourism vs resource extraction or if you want to compare the entire economic output of each industry then you can have an intellectually honest conversation, by comparing the entire output of one industry against just the taxation levied upon another is an incomplete and erroneous comparison.

    • I am curious what the ACLU’s take is on these new travel restrictions and the “Travel Declaration Forms” we all must now complete?
      It specifically says in the constitution that the government shall not limit citizens travel between states?
      Using the Corona Scam to implement Gestapo type travel restrictions is not only lame, it is a concern to our liberty as Americans.
      Germany is set to open schools in August with NO restrictions?
      Japan has done well with limited controls like Sweden, but we continue to be stuck in this continuous loop of changing mandates and more government oversight into our lives, health and travel?
      What happens if you arrive at the airport and refuse to fill out the Nazi “Travel Declaration Form”…are there any real laws passed through the legislative branch or is all of this B.S. a political stunt to hold us down and ruin the small business economy in America for good?

      • Steve S, wait until companies make the “Contact Tracing App” mandatory to travel or go to work. Australia did the “well, we cannot open until you download the app”., 2 million downloads overnight. Colleges are requiring it if I am not mistaken and you must check-in with your health status every 3 days I believe. Just going off memory so BEAR with me.

      • The “travel declaration form” is just the first step in normalizing the interruption of all our travel in the United States.
        The $200 K program that Dunleavy purchased to track all of our personal data was developed for the Gates foundation?
        This is a run away train that is leaving the station and everyone is too busy “taking a knee”?
        How can schools in Germany reopen in August with no changes to classrooms and no social distancing when we here in America are still having new controls placed over the population?
        Japan has had very little government intervention throughout this whole fiasco and they are also scheduled to return kids to school in August with no changes to classrooms?
        Has Bill Gates and the Clinton Foundation stole our civil rights through media disinformation campaigns and CDC medical mandates developed at the Agenda 21 workshop in 2019?

  4. To date, according to the state DHSS site, 36 of the 46 “out of state” covid cases that are in fact IN STATE have been seafood workers, 6 have been visitors, 2 airline pilots, 1 mining industry, and 1 other industry. I wonder how many of the officially counted cases were from “residents” who spend less than 6 months a year living here. At least 2 of the officially counted deaths occurred outside the state and against CDC guidelines are still being counted on the Alaskan tally.

    • Yet another data point supporting a move to fish farming (onshore / offshore) here in AK. If you have a local 24/7/365 fish farming operation, you aren’t importing seafood workers. They become locals. Who would have thought the Wuhan Flu makes a slam dunk case in support of fish farming in AK? Cheers –

  5. Get this…
    I was just sent a link from an article published in Forbes claiming that a Norwegian scientist can prove that this Coronavirus was man made and 6hrs after putting the article up, the editors pulled it offline.
    I have a screen shot of the first page and here was the opening paragraph…
    “Norwegian scientist Birger Sørensen has claimed the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is not natural in origin. The claims by the co-author of the British-Norwegian study—published in the Quarterly Review of Biophysics—are supported by the…”
    Man, censorship has taken on a whole new level this last week as streets across the globe are full of protest.

  6. What pandemic??? Haha, is this a joke??
    “The protest movement White Coats for Black Lives, where healthcare workers kneel in groups to support protesters demanding racial equality and justice, gathered at locations across the country over the weekend.

    The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported on a White Coats for Black Lives protest outside of Emory University Hospital on Friday, where healthcare workers knelt for eight minutes and 46 seconds — the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer knelt on Floyd’s neck before he died”

  7. Best time ever to visit Alaska ! The parks and fishing holes have no crowds. Its like stepping back in time 40 years . Come and experience this awesome opportunity!

    • The logistics of this airport testing seems pretty daunting. I live Outside in a state with a similar population to Alaska. To date, our state, Montana, has completed somewhere around 44,000 Covid test in total. How are the airports supposed to ramp up and do perhaps several hundred each day? Maybe more. Who are these contractors and how are they credentialed? Did the contractor go to “Rent a Swabber” to find employees? How are they trained? I have had two tests, preparatory to coming up, both were done by nurses.
      The net effect is going to put down the hammer blow for the run of the mill tourist. Those with more adventurist spirits will still come, including the hunters. But that is a fraction of what could be there, pumping desperately needed money into the local economies. Up until this mandate I thought Dunleavy was doing an excellent job. Not so much after this. A cluster.

    • Have you been to Southcentral AK since Memorial Weekend? The highways and campgrounds/RV parks are packed. Homer announced they had more traffic this spring than last year.

      • Gern, surprisingly, motorhome sales have skyrocketed since this whole mess. Left me scratching my head. Especially with the border that was closed.

  8. No one wants to go on a “Vacation” and have multiple swabs jabbed up your nose…remember when all those CDC tests were contaminated with Covid just a month ago?
    Secondly, this economic hardship was caused directly from the unconstitutional government mandates that forced businesses to close and worked “Lockstep” with the CDC and MSM to place the fear of dying into every American’s cellphone and laptop throughout the day.
    Over 100,000 people gathered together in Philadelphia for the 8th day in a row and NYC just announced the curfews will be lifted and public will be free to go back on the streets at night.
    Dunleavy needs to stop following his appointed health czar and think for himself, Alaska is a tourist based economy and people need a break from the madness occurring in the lower 48, not more draconian mandates that further dissolve their freedom and limits their ability to recreate.
    Studies just out from the UK show this new strain of Coronavirus is rapidly disappearing and any vaccine created will only have a 50% of success.

    • Steve,
      Tourism is like ranching pink salmon, generally low value, high volume.Compared to the value of resource extraction(as limited as it is),just a drop in the bucket.
      Heres what success looks like,with regards to the virus. At least at this point in time
      It can be done,if we think of the whole, rather than just the “me”.
      Perhaps we can find another resource or multiple resources that will take up the slack for declining future of crude oil.
      Generally low margin tourism, fish(pinks,polluck),low to non existent margin timber, nat gas.Declining margins for crude.Not a really healthy robust economic trend.
      Meanwhile the burdens of society here are greater and greater cost wise.
      All of these while they make up portion of the total pie, they are just one “episode” away from collapsing or in decline.If not already there.
      The only real strong leg is federal spending(now that state cap-ex has collapsed).Hopefully the next relief bill will be a big infrastructure bill(fully funded).
      The only thing the PPP has done is allow treading of water, with nothing to show but depressed default rates.We need something that will last investment wise into the future(preferably not just repaving which only lasts about 8yrs).

      • Dave Mc:
        Tourism low margin? Really? What the hell are you talking about? Try selling that line to the thousands of retail vendors, thousands of fishing guides and lodges, all the Hotels and B&Bs, restaurants, the tour guides and tour ships, and visitor transportation providers. They might take issue with your ridiculous claim.
        With the low price of crude, tourism would normally come very close to having as much economic benefit to the state as the “resource extraction”. That is until the State and Anchorage leaders made it almost impossible for tourists to visit the State

      • Alaskans First,

        Where do you get your information from that tourism is close to resource extraction, I can’t find anything to support that. Here’s what I’ve found. Tourism isn’t included as an industry, but obviously it impacts various sectors of the economy. Tourism makes up some part of transportation, retail, arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation, and food services. I don’t doubt that tourism has a large impact throughout the state, but it isn’t even close to resource extraction.

        Wikipedia says “Lodging, tours/activities, gifts/souvenirs, and food/beverage each accounted for about one-fifth of spending (18 to 20 percent)”, while the remaining fifth includes packages and transportation.” So 4/5th’s of the money spent by tourists is done in tourist packages and transportation. Since around half of tourists arrive on cruise ships and many if not most of the places where these cruise ship tourists spend their money are part of the cruise ship travel package and/or seasonal tourists selling their wares made in China to other tourists, most of the money from these tourists never sees the inside of an Alaskans wallet.

        There are some Alaskan resident guides and some stores owned by Alaskans that will be impacted by this pandemic and the mandates set forth to protect Alaskans. So far every Alaskan has been impacted in one way or another by this pandemic and we aren’t out of the woods yet. The case counts are just starting to reflect the opening up of our economy a few weeks ago.

      • Ak 1st,
        Your thinking aggregate gross, now divvy up that pie.And then come up with a tax receipt to the state for those numbers.I suspect ed king could probably throw that out for you at his sight if you are truly interested in the big picture.
        Its a numbers game, just like pinks or pollock,timber,etc,and now crude.Sure it all helps, but it aint gonna float our boat.All of those listed by you are almost purely approx 6 month gigs, maybe 8 at best.I watch ARR trains go by our shop all year long,I feel the pulse in spring, summer,and even into the fall/early winter.(NS construction).
        What floated our boat was high $ crude over the decades.
        Tourism,ON AVERAGE,provides a job, not so much a living(as in getting ahead, which is why belly up is the theme of the day).
        It could have easily happened to me as well,being in construction materials, its just a stroke of good luck, but we are a diversified company(one of very few i suspect in this state).
        Pretty sure Ill make almost as much this year,as I did last year.And the same next year.
        Again,just good luck, but Ill take it.I have a union trade, and Im in demand, and good at what I do.Tourism jobs are easily replicated, hence there fairly low wages.From bus maintenance to 6 pack deck hand, to trinket shop teller or hotel/restaraunt worker.
        I dont care how good your tips are, its mostly seasonal.So the yearly average is, well,not getting ahead.

        Its as simple as that boss

  9. It’d be a real shame to come all that way and endure quarantine restrictions only to find that the river was closed to sport fishing just as you arrived.

  10. A police officer is 18 and a half times more likely to be killed by a black person than the other way around.

    Police shot and killed 1,004 people in 2019 — with blacks accounting for 23 percent of those deaths. That percentage has held steady since at least 2017.

    While that may seem disproportionately high when compared to America’s overall black population, which stands at 13 percent, it is low when compared to the black crime rate, which is a better indicator of police contact, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article from Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

    Blacks committed approximately 60 percent of robberies and 53 percent of homicides in 2018, the most recent year for which figures are available.

    Those aren’t “protests”, it is anarchy. Brought to you by Soros, the Chinese, the Democrat Party, and of course, the biggest Community Organizer/Agirator Obama and his group of losers – Action for America.

    Trump has done WAY more for the black community than the Democrats ever had. Highest black employment rates EVER. * President Trump signed the Preventing Maternal Deaths Act that provides funding for states to develop maternal mortality reviews to better understand maternal complications and identify solutions & largely focuses on reducing the higher mortality rates for Black Americans. * The First Step Act’s reforms addressed inequities in sentencing laws that disproportionately harmed Black Americans and reformed mandatory minimums that created unfair outcomes. * Over 90% of those benefitting from the retroactive sentencing reductions in the First Step Act are Black Americans. * The First Step Act provides rehabilitative programs to inmates, helping them successfully rejoin society and not return to crime. * Trump increased funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) by more than 14%. * President Trump’s historic tax cut legislation included new Opportunity Zone Incentives to promote investment in low-income communities across the country. * 8,764 communities across the country have been designated as Opportunity Zones.

    Why on earth would anybody come to Alaska now, one of the more expensive tourist states, to self-quarantine for 14 days? Might as well put your hand out to the Feds, this year’s a wash. But hey, what pandemic and social distancing? It’s all a riot….Whatever you do though, just don’t go to church..

    • I think both the Muni and SoA are screwing up with testing mandates. If you require testing, is MUST be immediately available upon landing to anyone who wants it and results back within a day at most. If they do not make that testing available, then they are both complicit in the destruction of the tourism industry in AK. Perhaps it is intentional. Perhaps it is incompetence. Cheers –

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