Korean Air returning to Alaska

Casey Grove

South Korea's largest airline is set to return to Alaska with passenger service scheduled for the summer tourist season for the first time since 2005, according to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.

Korean Air plans to fly about 1,500 passengers to Anchorage on seven flights over the summer. During the four nights and five days included in the package, the Korean visitors will travel outside Anchorage to Whittier, Fairbanks, and probably Denali National Park and Preserve, ATIA president Ron Peck said.

"It's great news. It's obviously going to have a very specific impact on summer tour operators," Peck said.

The airline stopped its charted passenger flights to Alaska in 2005. The U.S. government made it easier in 2008 for Korean citizens to enter the U.S., and an improved economy and marketing efforts also helped, Peck said.

Peck said Alaska's overall tourism outlook is better for 2011, with an increase of 5 to 6 percent from 2010, when about 1.5 million visitors came to the state.

The numbers were down for two years in a row, Peck said. The industry's peak in 2008 saw more than 1.7 million visitors vacation in Alaska, he said.

Reach Casey Grove at casey.grove@adn.com or 257-4589.