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ATIA head: Alaska tourism underfunded

Posted: Monday, November 03, 2003

According to two of the state's tourism industry leaders, both state and local governments can do more to help attract visitors to Alaska.

That was the message delivered last Thursday to an industry meeting by Ron Peck, president and chief operating officer with the Alaska Travel Industry Associa-tion, and Bonnie Quill, executive director for the Mat-Su Convention and Visitor's Bureau. The meeting, held at Alaska Legends Lodge in Funny River, was sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Market-ing Council.

Peck told the group he believes Alaska's tourism industry is underfunded, and that the state can do more to support advertising and development of the industry.

"We rank 36th in terms of public sector funding," Peck said, saying Alaska ranks far behind other top vacation destinations like Florida and Hawaii.

ATIA received just $4.54 million in state funding last year, even though the industry generated $1.8 billion in revenues and $125 million in state and local taxes. That compares to an average of more than $10 million for the rest of the United States, even though Alaska is a major world travel destination.

Peck said ATIA would like to see a seasonal 2 percent sales tax used to help fund tourism marketing. The more people who hear about Alaska, the more money the state will see in revenue, he said.

"We want to continue to support and develop individual tourism businesses," he said.

To do that, marketing needs more funding. Peck said he doesn't expect a seasonal sales tax to go entirely to fund tourism marketing, but he'd like to see some of the money channeled back into the industry.

"The appropriate question is, 'Do we want to be at the table for a tax discussion or do we want to be under it fighting for the scraps?'" he asked.

Another kind of tax that can help grow regional tourism is a local bed tax. The Matanuska-Susitna Bor-ough has used such a tax since 1986 to fund its tourism campaign, and according to Quill, the tax created an independent marketing association with an annual budget of $650,000 -- all of which goes directly into the tourism industry.

"Before we had the bed tax, the borough essentially gave a grant to the Mat-Su Convention and Visitor's Bureau," she said. "Now the borough does not have any responsibility of just handing money to us."

The Mat-Su tax uses a formula by which 90 percent of the first $350,000 that's collected goes to the visitors bureau. After that, it's 50 percent up to their budgeted amount.

This year, the tax paid for $470,000 of the budget. The rest of the money raised goes into a tourism grant project, which can be used by anyone in the industry for a variety of projects, she explained.

"All this money has gone back into the Mat-Su borough to fund tourism," she said. "We're really proud of this program."

Quill said she had a selfish reason for coming to the peninsula to explain how her group has been successful with marketing. In order to attract more visitors to the Mat-Su area, more visitors need to hear about all parts of Alaska -- including the Kenai Peninsula.

"I want you to bring as many people to the Kenai Peninsula, because I know they're also going to want to go to Mount McKinley," she said.

Aud Walaszek, director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Market-ing Council, said she believes the Mat-Su model is the right way to go to help fund the peninsula's tourism advertising efforts.

"Everyone has said that to kick-start KPTMC, you need to follow Mat-Su," she said.

She said the Mat-Su example is the way to go because it would get people who already are coming to the area to help pay to attract new visitors.

"It just grows and blooms and that's what they've been doing," she said.

Both speakers Thursday stressed that the bottom line is to find more ways to attract visitors to all of Alaska. Tourism is an important industry, but for it to continue to grow, more people Outside need to hear about all that the state has to offer -- and that costs money.

"Our goal is simply to get folks interested to come to Alaska," Peck said.



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