Summer Lazenby, formerly the director of educational operations at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska, will now lead the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council as its executive director. She has the organization’s mission statement printed and hung above her door to remind herself to make mission-driven decisions in her new role.
Lazenby follows the departure of Shanon Davis, who switched jobs to direct the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce in April. Lazenby has been on the job roughly three weeks, and said while her background is not in tourism, she was looking for a job with more administrative responsibilities and room for growth.
“I loved, absolutely loved my time at Challenger,” Lazenby said. “It quite literally was an honor to get to be part of their mission. I just was ready for new challenges and new opportunities.”
Her time so far at the organization has been fun, Lazenby said. She’s been getting to know the staff and preparing the organization’s budget, which will be set by July 1.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted last month to cut the organization’s budget by 10 percent during the borough’s budget process. The organization previously got $340,000 from the borough annually. Now it will work with $306,000.
“Of course, we were disappointed — we would have loved to have been fully funded,” Lazenby said. “There’s other entities within the state that are — you know, Mat-Su, Fairbanks — comparable visitor centers. Mat-Su gets three times our funding, Fairbanks get 10 times. Tourism is the one bright spot right now, economically, and it’s hard to compete with other regions when … you’re getting significantly out-funded by them.”
Still, Lazenby said the organization won’t cry over spilled milk. She set out the morning after the assembly vote to figure out where to cut the 10 percent, she said. The organization will move forward in its work with what it has, she said.
“We’re thankful for the funding that we did get because I do know that year after year after year, even though this is my first year there, it is always a controversial thing to fund certain organizations within the Kenai Peninsula,” Lazenby said. “So we are very, very thankful for the funding that we did get, and we’re going to maximize it as much as possible.”
Now is a good time to do that, she said, as tourism is on the upswing in the state and particularly on the peninsula. Tourism is expected to grow 2 percent in 2017, according to predictions by the Alaska Travel Industry Association. Davis presented at this year’s Industry Outlook Forum that the Kenai Peninsula alone saw about $175 million in spending in the tourism industry in 2016. That was a 1.7 percent increase from 2015.
Finding more ways to increase the peninsula’s current number of visitors and bring them down to see what the area has to offer will be a major goal for the organization over the coming months, Lazenby said.
“We’re really going to focus on marketing our shoulder season to Anchorage,” she said.
Lazenby also has a few longer-term goals for her time as director.
“I like things to run efficiently, so one of the things I’m looking at is making sure that we are running absolutely as efficiently as possible,” she said. “The former director, Shanon Davis, has left this organization in a great spot, and I just look to move it forward.”
Another of Lazenby’s goals for her time as director is to reach out and be more inclusive of communities outside the central peninsula, places like Homer and Hope that are farther away but still fall under the scope of the organization’s job.
“We are not just focused on Kenai and Soldotna,” she said. “And so it is a priority of mine to reach out to the outlying communities and ensure they get the same representation.”
Part of this effort will soon include a kind of mini-grant program for marketing entities on the peninsula. The organization is looking at developing a program that will help support people and organizations with their marketing for small events.
The portion of the organization’s mission statement that’s spoken most to Lazenby so far is that which refers to “resident’s quality of life,” she said.
“Yeah, when we have tourism come to the peninsula they’re engaging small business, they’re engaging big business,” she said. “Yes, it’s great to have bed and breakfasts full. Fred Meyer gets busy. If people are spending money at Fred Meyer, they’re generating tax dollars. … All of their presence on the Kenai has a positive impact on our quality of life because it does increase our sales tax dollars, it does put money into the community beyond the sales tax.”
Reach Megan Pacer at firstname.lastname@example.org.