|This research investigates the different types of tourists and their motives while visiting Alaska during the Iditarod. According to Getz (2008), sports event tourism has increased over recent years and a clear link between major events, attracting tourists and generating a positive destination image can be seen. In this perspective, the Iditarod is a mix of sporting events and touristic activities that capture the arctic wilderness.
The longest and one of the most popular sled dog races in the world, known as the Iditarod is held in Alaska. The first race was completed in 1973. From 1976, the Iditarod gained national and international credibility by calling the race; “The Last Great Race on Earth.” Now, national and international tourists are visiting Alaska in the wintertime to see the Iditarod. I have been following part of the Iditarod 2014 during my half-year stay in Alaska to conduct this research. The research question is formulated;
“Who are the tourists visiting Alaska during the Iditarod, and what are their motives?”
Understanding the tourists and their motivations is important to understand travellers behaviours, predict future travel patterns and it should help tourism industries to develop effective marketing programs to attract the travellers. (Jang & Wu, 2006)
For this master thesis, mixed methods are used to conduct research. Three in-depth interviews are conducted with different tour operators based in Anchorage and Nome. The sample of tour operators is founded by two main criteria. The first is that tour operators are based in Anchorage and the second is that they are offering tours during the Iditarod. The in-depth interviews give the researcher information about the best locations for conducting the quantitative research. The locations for the quantitative research were the Mushers Drawing Banquet Anchorage, Day before Iditarod 2014 Race Start, Iditarod 2014 Race start, Iditarod 2014 Race Re-Start and the finish in Nome. After conducting a sample of 56 respondents spread over these different locations, four types of tourists could be identified; the casual visitor, the “eye-opening” visitor, the “bucket list” visitor and the experienced visitor. These types of out-of-state visitors can be explained according to the motives and the classification of cultural tourists by McKercher (2000).
The casual visitor is the visitor for who the Iditarod played a limited role in their decision to visit Alaska. Once these visitors were in Alaska, they decided to participate in some activities like the race start in downtown Anchorage. The “eye-opening” visitor is for whom the Iditarod played again a limited role in their decision for Alaska but once they arrived, this
visitor wants to participate in the Iditarod activities, gets extremely interested and ends up having a deep and new experience. The ‘bucket list’ visitor is a person who dreamed about travelling to Alaska and personally witnessing the Iditarod for a long time. This type of visitor wants to have a deep cultural experience. Finally, the experience visitor is hard to identify completely according to McKercher (2000). The experience visitor is an interesting new type of cultural visitor that is retrieved from this master thesis. This out of state visitor has a history with the Iditarod and has made repeated visits. Some of them volunteer, but others follow the race and support the teams along the trail. The experience visitor knows how the race works and is used to the atmosphere. Besides that, they are returning visitors who are spending most money during their visit.
There can be concluded that an international sport event such as the Iditarod is attracting several types of tourists. In this research, the different types of visitors are categorized in four types named the casual visitor, the “eye-opening” visitor, the “bucket list” visitor and the experienced visitor all with their own characteristics. It shows that an international sport event is a new field in the tourism industry, which can attract a new kind of target group. This target group consists of tourists seeking for novelty, socialization, prestice, rest and relaxation, education value and family togetherness by travelling to foreign places for a sport event. A sport event like the Iditarod involves sport, cultural aspects, and adventure. It is organized in a way that it attracts specatators from all over the world eventough the logistics are difficult in an area such as Alaska. Besides that, the Iditarod is having the effect of keeping people at home and it is a reason for visitors, who are already in Alaska, to stay longer. The Iditarod is having a large tourism value when looking at the out of state visitors visiting Alaska during the Iditarod. The Iditarod race is taking care of a positive destination image worldwide because of the cultural aspects involved.