State tourism group seeks charter members

Posted: Sunday, June 06, 1999

Tourism businesses have until the end of the month to put their $25 on the table and become voting members of a new statewide tourism marketing organization.

The Alaska Travel Industry Association is being created because of a law that passed the Legislature this spring. It called for the state to contract out its tourism marketing work and for the industry to gradually pick up a bigger share of the tab for promotions.

For $25, any tourist business can become a charter member of the new organization, said Tina Lindgren, executive director of the Alaska Visitors Association.

Charter members will be able to run for the board, which will be set up this fall, and vote for board members.

The small initial charter member fee is an attempt to make the organization as broad-based as possible, Lindgren said.

``Every business has exactly one vote,'' said Ken Leghorn, a member of the transition team working on forming the new group. ``The smallest B & B has the same clout as the largest hotel or airlines or cruse lines.'' Leghorn is owner of Alaska Discovery Wilderness Adventures.

There had been concerns when the legislation passed about the marketing needs of smaller companies being overshadowed by companies that pay more.

That fear remains among some small businesses.

Judy Urquhart, co-owner of Blueberry Lodge, said she knows little about the new group, but she fears it will be like other large tourism promotion organizations - weighted toward the needs of large-scale operators, like the cruise ship industry.

Leghorn said the new group has the potential to be much more broad-based, but only if people join. Businesses are signing up at a slower pace than the transition team had hoped.

``We'd like to see about 1,000 members before we can say this is really a representative statewide group,'' he said.

Memberships may be coming in slowly because the measure was only recently signed into law by the governor, he said. Additional mailings will be sent to tourism businesses this month.

Businesses will eventually be asked to contribute more than the $25 charter membership.

How much each business will be asked to contribute hasn't been decided yet, Leghorn said. One funding scenario calls for an ``entry level'' contribution of $200 for businesses with five or fewer employees.

However, those details will be worked out by new board, so it's important for people to join if they want to influence that decision, Leghorn said.

``It's really the first charter membership who will elect a board, who can set membership fees, change the bylaws, completely invent itself as an organization based on what that membership wants.''

John Mazor, executive director of the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that group has put its $25 charter membership in the pot. Whether it will stay in depends on the program the new organization comes up with and whether it appears JCVB will get a better return on its marketing dollars there than it would by putting them elsewhere, he said.

Previously the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council, which received state and private funds, had done domestic promotions, while the state Division of Tourism had done overseas marketing.

The new organization will take over both domestic and overseas marketing. Because there is such a long lead time in tourism marketing, those marketing efforts will be focused on the year 2001.

Eventually, the Alaska Visitors Association and the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council will be dismantled.

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