The number of tourists visiting Alaska continued climbing in 2016, according to preliminary numbers. But industry leaders say a drop in state support for marketing could hurt visitor businesses.
More than 1 million cruise ship passengers visited Alaska for the first time since 2009, according to the Alaska chapter of the Cruise Lines International Association, the Peninsula Clarion reported).
Border crossings from Canada increased 13 percent. Outbound air traffic passengers between May and August rose 6 percent, according to the McDowell Group, a Juneau-based research firm.
On Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, a popular destination for both residents and out-of-state visitors, Kenai Fjords National Park saw 14 percent more visitors, said Shannon Davis, executive director of the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. Sales tax figures on the peninsula could break records, she said.
“It’s always fun to report good news,” she told the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly last week.
The optimism was tempered by the effect of the state’s ongoing financial woes, which are tied to the oil industry.
As part of larger budget cuts, Gov. Bill Walker reduced the state support for tourism marketing from a budgeted $4.5 million to about $1.5 million. That’s a fraction of the $9.6 million appropriated in in fiscal year 2016 and about $17.9 million in fiscal year 2015.
“Industry leaders have decided that this number is just completely unacceptable for the tourism industry to be able to remain competitive with . our competitors,” Davis said. “They are looking at different ways that they can turn things around for the industry.”
Alaska lawmakers indicated the industry must find ways to sustain itself and rely less on state dollars.
The Alaska Travel Industry Association is exploring marketing options. One suggestion is a Tourism Improvement District in which tourism-related businesses would be assessed a fee dedicated to statewide marketing, said Sarah Leonard, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
The association is assessing support from members, and it likely would take two to three years to create the system, Leonard said.
Information from: (Kenai, Alaska) Peninsula Clarion, http://www.peninsulaclarion.com
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