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Senate support waning for funds to push tourism

Posted: Wednesday, March 06, 2002

A bill to provide emergency marketing aid to the state's tourism industry lacks support among majority Republicans in the Senate, said Senate President Rick Halford.

Cruise ship bookings continue to recover as travel fears following the September terrorist attacks ebb. The emergency need to spend $6 million for a marketing campaign is becoming less apparent among members of the Senate, Halford said.

"There is still support among some people to take up the legislation. But that support is appearing less critical because of what appears to be happening in the marketplace," Halford said.

The Alaska Tourism Industry Association was in line to receive $5.9 million in state funds to pool with its own contribution to wage a media campaign to promote Alaska as a safe vacation spot.

Travel fears following the Sept. 11 attacks had led to a sharp drop in advance bookings for some Alaska tourism businesses, the group said.

ATIA first had asked for $12.5 million, and Gov. Tony Knowles cut that request to $9.8 million. A measure passed the House on Feb. 4 to spend $6 million in state general funds on the campaign.

But in late February cruise ship companies began reporting improved bookings. Holland-America executives expected to fill six ships during summer cruises, and Princess Cruises, the largest of the Alaska cruise lines, also reported improved bookings.

"We think Alaska is the destination for 2002, because it's not Europe," Tom Baker, president of Cruise Center.Com, a large cruise-selling agency, said in February.

Halford said a final decision on whether to spend the funds has to come within the next two weeks for the campaign to be effective. But he said the support is not there at this time.

"It appeared that what I hoped, and a lot of other people hoped, was that people put their decisions off but they didn't decide not to come to Alaska," Halford said.

"I think there's still concern for the smaller participants, but there are some gains there," he said.

But Tina Lindgren, ATIA president, said the industry as a whole is still looking at a poor tourism season.

Bookings for motor coaches and lodges remain lower than they were at this time last year and smaller cruise ship companies are dropping cruises, she said.

"It by no stretch of the imagination means that the rest of the industry is in good shape right now," Lindgren said.

House Bill 359 is before the Senate Rules Committee, where it could be called to the full Senate at any time. Senate Rules Committee Chairman Randy Phillips, an Eagle River Republican, said the prospects of its passage are not good.

Phillips is opposed to the measure, calling it an industry subsidy that could open the floodgates for other industries. He echoed Halford's comments about the bill's lack of Senate support.

"I don't think it's going to fly this year," Phillips said.



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