My turn: Alaska needs a US senator who will promote tourism

Posted: Sunday, October 03, 2010

The visitor industry is critically important to Alaska's economy. That's why Alaska needs a U.S. Senator who will fight to actively promote the state's travel and tourism interests. Unfortunately, tourism has not been a priority for our elected leaders in Washington, D.C., but I believe there are great opportunities to promote travel and tourism in the Last Frontier.

As the Mayor of Sitka, I'm acutely aware of the importance of tourism to Southeast communities. That's why as mayor, I supported the continuation of our local sales tax cap on purchases over $1,000 and favor passing a significant portion of the local bed tax to the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau. The visitor industry alone is the second largest private sector employer in the state. More than 40,000 Alaska jobs and $2 billion in direct expenditures are tied to the well being of this industry. Hundreds of small businesses, the backbone of Alaska's economy, rely on seasonal visitors for their livelihood.

Like many other sectors, Alaska's travel and tourism related businesses were hit hard by the economic recession. The reduction in cruise ship voyages through the inside passage was felt throughout Southeast Alaska. We felt the recession's impact firsthand in Sitka. I will be a tireless advocate in the Senate for policies assisting Alaska's small businesses. I believe government policies should be pro-business and encourage growth in the private sector. This is why I support small business tax credits, which would assist small tourism-related businesses to improve and expand their operations. This will support job growth, as the visitor industry is one of the quickest to add jobs when demand increases.

Tourism is one of our country's best renewable resources. The federal government should do more to facilitate marketing the United States to potential overseas visitors. Passage of the Travel Promotion Act was a good start, but America needs an aggressive strategy to keep pace with other destinations that have expansive targeted destination marketing campaigns. With Alaska's strategic proximity to Asian markets, we should be doing more to encourage leisure travel from Japan, Korea, and China.

The same is true for marketing Alaska domestically. I support providing the Alaska Travel Industry Association and local convention and visitor bureaus more resources to market Alaska in the Lower 48. Just a small investment in marketing can have dramatic positive impact on Alaska's small businesses.

I believe there are great opportunities to expand Alaska's visitor industry and I support investing in the Alaska Marine Highway to foster more independent travel and tourism in Southeast. From improving recreation infrastructure in the Tongass National Forest or Glacier Bay National Park to expanding sustainable tourism in rural communities, Alaska needs a strong voice for tourism in the U.S. Senate.

We're fortunate to live in the most beautiful and pristine state in the country. I look forward to working with Alaska's visitor industry and small businesses to help market and grow the tourism industry in Alaska.

• McAdams is mayor of Sitka and is the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate.

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