Cruise lines may gain control in funding fight

Cruise group says it's working to spur tourism growth for all sectors

Posted: Wednesday, March 01, 2000

The cruise ship industry would tighten its grip on state-funded tourism marketing under proposed budget cuts in the Legislature, according to organizations representing small tourism businesses and local visitors' bureaus.

The Alaska Society of Convention and Visitors Bureaus and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation & Tourism Association are trying to rally their memberships against a House Finance subcommittee proposal. That panel voted Monday to cut funding for the state Division of Tourism by about 75 percent.

Some local bureaus and ecotourism businesses see the state division as an advocate for an increased independent visitor market benefiting Alaska-based operations.

Meanwhile, they view the new Alaska Travel Industry Association - the statewide private sector group in line to take over most state-sponsored tourism marketing - as being controlled by Outside cruise lines.

But the head of the Alaska Travel Industry Association, with more than 1,000 members, said it has a broad vision for tourism that includes more independent visitors.

``I think our goal is to grow the pie for everyone in the state,'' Tina

Lindgren, ATIA executive director, said from Anchorage.

John Hansen, president of the Vancouver-based North West CruiseShip Association, said cruise ship traffic - and industrypaid advertising - stimulates all tourism sectors in Alaska.

``A lot of private, smaller businesses are prospering because of the cruise industry,'' Hansen said.

ATIA is seeking a state marketing contract of nearly $4.9 million, up from the $4.2 million envisioned in last year's ``new millennium'' tourism-promotion plan approved by the Legislature.

The result of that increase would be a general fund appropriation of just $280,900 for the state division, down from about $1.1 million.

That's a funding level that would cancel the agency's travel budget and limit its outreach programs.

``Effectively, it's a zero-out, when it comes to the mission and goal,'' said Sen. Kim Elton, a Juneau Democrat.

Lindgren said the new statewide association isn't raiding the division's budget but is merely acting on its understanding of what the Legislature said last year it would appropriate for the marketing contract.

Industry leaders originally sought abolishment of the Division of Tourism, along with the upcoming phase-out of the public-private Alaska Tourism Marketing Council. The idea was to consolidate marketing efforts in one place and leverage a greater private sector contribution.

But the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles wanted the the division maintained for oversight of the marketing contract and for technical assistance programs for small businesses and small communities.

``It's important that there's some entity in place to make sure that the public's investment is protected,'' said John Mazor, president of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Buckwheat Donohue, Mazor's counterpart in Skagway, said the initial action by the House subcommittee reneges on last year's compromise, which left the division intact.

``Why can't we stick with the original agreement as it was?'' Donohue asked. ``Because this puts us in an adversarial relationship with some of our legislators, which is unnecessary.''

House Finance Co-Chairman Elton Mulder, an Anchorage Republican, and subcommittee chairman Alan Austerman, a Kodiak Republican, couldn't be reached for comment today.

Bob King, the governor's spokesman, said Knowles isn't backing off of the new millennium plan of 1999.

``There was no intent in last year's agreement to gut the division, as they would do under this proposal,'' King said.

Carol Kasza, who runs a wilderness excursion business in the Brooks Range, said she now worries the plan she supported will turn out to be even worse than the status quo for small businesses targeting independent visitors.

If cruise ship interests on ATIA are successful in getting the Legislature to downsize the Division of Tourism, ``They've consolidated their power,'' Kasza, vice president of the ecotourism association, said from Fairbanks today.

Elton said he's worried entrepreneurs such as Kasza could bolt from the ATIA, which was intended to bring the industry together.

``What may be happening instead is that these groups that were supposed to come together are coming apart,'' Elton said. ``If there is chaos this season, it sets the state's marketing efforts dramatically backwards.''

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