Tourist industry wants more state money

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska travel industry is asking the Legislature for $14 million in state money to lure visitors, a request that marks a dramatic change from the ''millennium plan'' set up three years ago.

''In hindsight, our intent with the millennium plan was to become more competitive and to get back to the prosperity we had in the '80s and early '90s,'' said Bob Dindinger, chairman of the Alaska Travel Industry Association. ''Unfortunately, we have not been able to do that.''

The millennium plan, approved by the Legislature in 2000, created a three-year program in which state support for tourism marketing was reduced $4.8 million a year in 2000-2001 to $4 million for the current fiscal year. Private industry was to step in and fill the gap. This year, the industry kicked in $6 million.

Gov. Frank Murkowski's 2004 budget proposal would maintain the flat $4 million in state funding.

Dindinger asked the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday to increase the state contribution by $10 million, arguing that the impacts of the Sept. 11 attacks have left the industry reeling.

''The year 2002 was a trying time for the Alaska tourism industry,'' he said. ''Success last year was measured in survival.''

Dindinger cited a 2002 Alaska tourism study that showed volume decreased at nearly half of businesses surveyed, with especially large drops for businesses that cater to cruise ship passengers, overseas travelers, adventure travelers and sport fishermen.

Dindinger said the requested $10 million increase from the state would be met with a flat $6 million in private funding, meaning the state share would increase from 40 to 70 percent.

Public money is the only source of tourism promotion in 35 states, Dindinger argued, and in states that receive private support, public money still accounts for more than 80 percent of the total. The average state spends $13.1 million in public money on tourism, he said.

After Wednesday's hearing, Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said he understood the industry's request.

''This Legislature signed off on the millennium plan as a way to promote tourism, and we had thought when we were done with that some three years ago, four years ago, that that was going to be the way tourism was funded,'' said Wilken, co-chairman of the Finance Committee. ''But then along came (Sept. 11) and everything changed....

''Their message, I think, is it makes it more important the state do more in order to help grab those people from other states.''

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