ANCHORAGE -- To advertise its backpacking and rafting trips in the Brooks Range, Arctic Treks, a Fairbanks company, has relied on its Web page and word-of-mouth, both low-budget ways of finding high-dollar clients.
Soon that tour company and others like it could get a marketing boost if they promise to tread lightly on the land and be good to local communities.
The state, the World Wildlife Fund and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association are working on tourism accreditation standards for the Arctic and Alaska. The program, called LINKS, or Linking Tourism and Conservation, is expected to be up and running next year.
The program will allow companies to display the LINKS logo, not unlike the idea behind the "Made in Alaska" label, if they abide by 10 standards demanded of the organizers.
The idea came from the Arctic Council, a forum of polar nations, as a way to help promote sustainable northern businesses.
"Tourism is one of the top three or four industries in the state that is consistently growing, and ecotourism businesses tend to be small businesses owned by Alaskans," said Michael Johnson, a development specialist with the state Division of Community and Business Development.
The program will link conservation, tourism and technology in the Arctic by using the Internet to promote sustainable development in regions that are far off the beaten path, said Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, one of the program's supporters.
LINKS' basic mission will be to reward tourism companies that follow conservation principles and respect local communities. But backers also see the program as a tool to educate tourists and incentive for tourism companies to be more responsive to environmental and local concerns.
"It's not just a marketing label," said Sarah Leonard, director of the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association. "I'd want every business to be more eco-friendly."
Ulmer said the LINKS label should help small companies in remote regions of the Arctic by providing them with free advertising and a quality assurance label. Tourists would know that a company with the LINKS label is conscientious about the environment.
Standards will include ensuring local communities benefit from tourism. In return, the company could list themselves on the LINKS Web site and use the LINKS logo to promote their businesses.
The state, World Wildlife Fund and the tourism association will decide which companies qualify. They will be companies that operate in Alaska, or Arctic countries such as Norway, Finland and Iceland that join the program.
The program will not try to check out each company after initially approving them for the LINKS label, said Johnson. It will probably rely on tourists to report bad operators.
"Ultimately, it's the consumer that will enforce it," he said.
"This is something the state should be supporting," said Carol Kasza, who owns Fairbanks-based Arctic Treks with her husband, Jim Campbell. "The products we are selling are wild lands, and to protect and promote those qualities makes sense."
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