Panel suggests state approve tourism funding

Industry leaders say next year will be a disaster unless funds are forthcoming

Posted: Sunday, December 02, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Next year's tourism season will be a disaster unless the Legislature approves millions of dollars in emergency marketing funds, Alaska travel industry leaders said.

Dennis Brandon, vice president of tourism for Anchorage-based Cook Inlet Region Inc., said that message will be relayed soon to Gov. Tony Knowles. Knowles has appointed a task force to study how the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks affected Alaska's economy.

"The state is our only prayer at this point," said Brandon, a member of the task force.

Advance bookings for tours and shore excursions are down 40 percent to 60 percent from this time last year, according to Tina Lindgren, president and chief operating officer of Alaska Travel Industry Association.

An association survey found that 39 percent of respondents who planned to visit Alaska next summer now say they won't. Fear of flying, a desire to stay closer to home, and anxiety over the recession are the major reasons.

The travel association adopted a crisis recovery plan, still in draft form, at a meeting in Girdwood on Thursday. The plan calls for $12.5 million in state emergency funds, the majority to be spent on a media marketing blitz over the winter and early spring. More than $8 million would pay for television ads, with the rest going toward a newspaper campaign, direct mailings, Internet outreach and public relations, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Unlike the fishing and timber industries, which can apply for government relief during times of hardship, tourism businesses have no such haven, Brandon said. That's why state lawmakers need to quickly approve emergency funding when they convene in Juneau in January, he said.

The cruise industry, one of Alaska's fastest-growing tourism sectors, is experiencing a dramatic decline in bookings for next season. Cancellations could reach the $2 billion mark, according to an impacts summary prepared by the travel association.

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