FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Mother Nature cooperated with the Alaska Travel Industry Association's convention this week by flashing an after-dinner northern lights show.
''Talk about amazing!'' said Mark Ittel, a project manager for the Miami firm of Bermello, Ajamil & Partners, Inc. ''That in itself was so worth coming here.''
Ittel is one of about 560 people signed up for the three-day conference at the Carlson Center. The event, which began Wednesday, offers the tourism industry a chance to network, catch up with what's new and work on putting some glow back into a lackluster season.
Ittel, who is here to meet with representatives of Native corporations, said his company builds piers and cargo facilities and helps communities with developing master plans.
''There's always opportunity here,'' he said. ''Always has been.''
That's what the convention is about, said Tina Lindgren, ATIA president and CEO.
''This will be the largest gathering this year,'' Lindgren said. ''It gives people a chance to do a lot of business with each other. It gives people a chance to meet face-to-face.''
Marie Oboczky, with the Wrangell Convention and Visitors Bureau, wanted to catch up with the people she's been talking to over the phone.
''We actually came to network, make some new contacts and touch base with people we already have relationships with,'' she said.
Mark Hefflin, account representative for Group Tour Magazine out of Portland, Ore., is looking for new advertisers.
''It's the networking,'' he said.
ATIA was formed when the Alaska Visitor Association and the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council dissolved this summer. The new organization, which has 800 members, has been awarded a $4.8 million state contract to promote Alaska's visitor industry, she said. The group also plans to raise another $4 million from the private sector to round out its budget, Lindgren said.
The group will use $7.4 million for marketing.
Alaska needs more marketing, Lindgren said, because it could be one reason why this year's tourism season is looking very flat.
''We're doing less and less promotion,'' she said. ''The competition has increased theirs greatly.'' Consumers have so many choices for travel, she said.
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