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Walker proposes cutting state tourism marketing, funding industry effort instead

By Eric Ruble, KTVA

Encouraging people to visit Alaska is no cheap task. In the past, the state has spent nearly $18 million in one year through its tourism marketing office within the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. However, Gov. Bill Walker plans to eliminate funding for the tourism marketing office, as revealed in his proposed 2018 budget.

While funding for tourism marketing is reduced to nothing, there is a $3 million grant through the capital budget that will go to the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) to fund its own marketing effort.

The director of the Alaska Office of Management and Budget said this is not the first time the state will outsource tourism marketing efforts.

“It used to be industry-led years ago, and then it transitioned to be within the Department of Commerce,” said Pat Pitney.

While she said she applauded ATIA’s efforts to create a “self-funding mechanism,” Perry said given the dwindling oil economy, the state should continue funding its own marketing department for tourism.

“We need to be doing everything we can to get tourism boosted and get people interested. It’s too much of an economic driver for the state to be left on its own or to be left languishing,” said Perry.

This year was a record-breaking year for Alaska tourism. Two million people have visited so far, according to Walker’s office.

In an email to KTVA, ATIA President and CEO Sarah Leonard said, “Industry leaders continue discussion around a funding plan for tourism. ATIA has been exploring with industry a self-assessment model to fund statewide tourism marketing.”

The $3 million grant for ATIA is twice the amount the tourism marketing office received for 2017 funding. However, it is significantly less than the $8.4 million in funding the office received in 2016.

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The change was not well received by some in the tourism industry. The president and CEO of Travel Juneau said cuts to state-run tourism marketing programs in Colorado and Washington directly impacted how many people visited.

“Any state that has reduced its tourism funding — like Alaska has done — will tell you that they suffered a loss of market share as a direct result,” said Liz Perry.

While she said she applauded ATIA’s efforts to create a “self-funding mechanism,” Perry said given the dwindling oil economy, the state should continue funding its own marketing department for tourism.

“We need to be doing everything we can to get tourism boosted and get people interested. It’s too much of an economic driver for the state to be left on its own or to be left languishing,” said Perry.

This year was a record-breaking year for Alaska tourism. Two million people have visited so far, according to Walker’s office.

In an email to KTVA, ATIA President and CEO Sarah Leonard said, “Industry leaders continue discussion around a funding plan for tourism. ATIA has been exploring with industry a self-assessment model to fund statewide tourism marketing.”

The $3 million grant for ATIA is twice the amount the tourism marketing office received for 2017 funding. However, it is significantly less than the $8.4 million in funding the office received in 2016.

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