Much has been written and said recently about how Alaska should go about boosting tourism. Ideas are bouncing back and forth, and spending ideas and resolutions abound. Who is going to pay the price? What price should be paid? Should a price be paid in the first place? Do we really want tourists here?
May I approach this a bit differently?
Each Alaskan, whether we have lived here only a short while, or forever, is a personal representative of our state. We portray Alaska at its best -- or at its worst. People think they know what Alaska is like by the stories we tell or the pictures we show or the demeanor we display when we speak the word "Alaska." It is up to US to define our home.
A former state senator from our area used to set up tables with Alaska information at malls when he made trips. I think he was on the right track. When we make trips Outside -- business trips, pleasure trips, emergency trips -- we are representatives of Alaska. We can be good representatives of all of the allure, grandeur, wildness and wonder of our home. Or we can be the stereotypical sourdough -- sour on Alaska, but not enough dough to leave.
As it is our choice, I try to make mine in the positive vein. I love to talk about my adopted home state. I happily share photographs of it, either in person or through my Web sites and newsletters. It is fun to share bits of Alaska with folks I visit.
n I ride motorcycles. As the director of the Soaring Eagles, Alaska's chapter of Women On Wheels, I enthuse over the riding possibilities and scenery to other women who ride. I have written articles that have been printed in motorcycling magazines, both print and e-zines. When other riders correspond with me asking questions about traveling to Alaska, I answer enthusiastically and help them find the information they need in order for their trip to be safe and successful.
n When attending conferences in the Lower 48, I go armed for bear. I request from my senator Alaska pins. Sen. Ward and his staff have cheerfully answered each request I have made. To each pin I attach a business card with my name and e-mail address as well as a line "compliments of the Senator and Alaska." If another of my representatives has found pins or other such mementos for me to give away, I give them credit as well.
n At the first Women and Motorcycling Conference sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association in 1997, I carried pins from Kenai, thanks to Mayor Williams, and the pins from Alaska, and watched them disappear in the first half hour of the conference. A new parka I had purchased at a garage sale was given out as a door prize -- the excitement of the woman who won it was wonderful to share.
n At the second conference, held last summer, I took out some caps from a local fishing guide, several more pins and some other souvenirs I purchased for the occasion. At another conference a few years ago I took several "Moose Spinners" made out of moose leavings by a local businessman. These were a hit to everyone -- even the fellow who won almost every one of them in the door prize giveaways.
I am getting ready to travel to Redding, Calif., in July for the annual Women On Wheels Ride-In. It will be my first Ride-In, and I am looking forward to meeting women I only know through the organization's magazine and correspondence.
Thanks once again to Sen. Ward, I will be carrying some Alaska pins to share with the ladies. I would be happy to represent our area further by taking pins and souvenirs from Kenai or Soldotna, the chambers of commerce, the Alaska travel industry representatives and any other business or organization that would like to share.
It is a pretty fair bet that my trip this summer is not the only one that will be made by a local resident. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the local tourism associations and chambers of commerce would make us all their ambassadors? It would not cost a whole lot of money. Plenty of goodwill can be shared by giving out postcards, pins and the like at conferences like I will be attending.
No tickets have to be purchased -- we are going anyway, so we have already made travel arrangements. No housing or vehicle rental have to be arranged for the same reasons. You simply need to fill up a pocket or two of my carry-on backpack.
Does it work? You be the judge. Between the first AMA conference in 1997 and the second in 2000, I was contacted by several women asking if I would be bringing those great Alaska pins with me again. I have been corresponding with several folks I have met on these trips. After this conference, a lady and her husband plan to ride the Alaska Highway on their motorcycles and come for a visit. Others have also made trips after asking us for information on guides and hotels and area interests.
Another example of it working: my husband and I moved to Alaska in 1978 after meeting and hearing stories from folks who had come up to help build the Kenai Grace Brethren Church. We read their stories in the fellowship's magazine. We listened to them speak at services. We watched their movies and slides about their trips. We caught the bug. We sold everything and moved here on a wing and a prayer. It has been a wonderful 22 years!
My point is this. We are each representatives of our home. We can do so much to share a bit of that home with each person we touch. And, the tourism industry can utilize our enthusiasm for very little cost. It would be an interesting experiment, don't you think?
Barbara Waters is a 22-year resident of Kenai. She is an avid motorcyclist and, for someone who never flew in an airplane prior to her move to Alaska, loves to travel. On her travels, Barbara loves to tell others of her adopted state.
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