Travel industry group wants state funds to lure more visitors

Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Alaska Travel Industry Association wants $14 million in state funding to help market Alaska.

The association plans to ask the Legislature for the money following a lukewarm tourist season.

Earlier this year, lawmakers turned down ATIA's request for emergency funds to promote tourism after a travel slowdown following the East Coast terrorist attacks.

The Alaska tourism association believes state funds are necessary to rebuild tourism for 2003 following mixed results this summer.

ATIA's 2003 budget will have $6 million from the private sector, said Ron Peck, president and chief operating officer. But Peck would like an overall budget climb to $20 million to promote tourism in Alaska. Other states spend between $35 million and $71 million to attract visitors, he said.

''Sometimes you need to invest some money to make money,'' Peck told the Alaska Journal of Commerce. ''We believe that the allocation of money and resources to tourism will bring more people to the state. It's a good choice.''

But convincing lawmakers could be a tough sell with an expected state budget crunch, said Rep. Norm Rokeberg.

The Anchorage Republican watched legislative support dwindle for ATIA's early 2002 request. March bookings had topped slow reservation levels in January, he said.

Rokeberg believes state government should fund tourism marketing within limits. He did not suggest a possible dollar amount.

''I support the concept if we can afford it,'' Rokeberg said.

ATIA asked the Legislature for $12.5 million in January to launch a nationwide ad campaign aimed at boosting summer visitor numbers. But the request was trimmed repeatedly, and eventually a $2 million appropriation was scrubbed by the Senate in April.

ATIA's Peck believes the outlook for next year may again be sluggish.

Tourism businesses probably will push other marketing aspects to draw visitors next summer, he said. For example, Anchorage's increased hotel room inventory, one filled by visitors, can now permit bookings for meetings and conventions, Peck said. Businesses also probably will continue to appeal to Alaskans by offering special rates, he said.

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