Dave McGlothlin, Holland America Group; Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines; Commissioner Marc Luiken, Alaska Department of Transportation; Bill O’Leary, Alaska Railroad; and Peter Grunwaldt, Premier Alaska Tours, participated in a panel on infrastructure needs. Copyright © 2017
Visit Anchorage CEO Julie Saupe presents the Alyeska Award to Al Koch of All Alaska Tours. Photo courtesy ATIA
Visit Anchorage CEO Julie Saupe presents the Alyeska Award to Al Koch of All Alaska Tours. © 2017

Four individuals and three Alaska businesses were honored for their contributions to the visitor industry at the Alaska Travel Industry Association’s (ATIA) Kodiak convention.

These award winners are nominated and voted on by their visitor industry peers.

Here are this year’s winners:

Alyeska Award presented to All Alaska Tours
ATIA awarded the Alyeska Award to All Alaska Tours for its leadership in growing Alaska tourism through international visitors. The company has hosted visitors from 35 countries to Alaska  over the last 25 years.

Chuck West Award presented to Alaska Farm Tours
This award is given to a new pioneer in the industry and this year went to Alaska Farm Tours, which shares the rich history of agriculture in the Mat-Su Valley with travelers with visits to area farms. Margaret Adsit is the owner.

Denali Award presented to John Quinley, National Park Service
John Quinley was honored with the Denali Award for his many years with the National Parks Service where he strengthened relationships with Alaska’s tourism industry.

Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to Richard Benneville
ATIA awarded Richard Benneville, the Mayor of Nome, with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Mayor Benneville started Nome Discovery Tours and continues to be a passionate and well-known advocate for the growth of Alaska’s tourism industry.

Spirit of Alaska Award presented to Becky Janes with Above & Beyond Alaska
Becky Janes, owner of Above & Beyond Alaska, was honored with the Spirit of Alaska Award for her quiet and humble support of community organizations in Southeast Alaska, where she has donated equipment, time and resources to countless youth, scout, church and student groups.

Stan Stephens Stewardship Award presented to Ken Leghorn
The Stan Stephens Stewardship Award was presented posthumously to Ken Leghorn. During his life, Ken enthusiastically gave back to his community and to Alaska’s special places that he loved by sharing them with neighbors and travelers alike.

Special Recognition Award presented to Mike Wien
A special recognition award was presented to Mike Wein posthumously for his love of Alaska and for dedicating his time and commitment to Alaska tourism his entire life.

A panel at the Alaska Travel Industry’s annual convention tackled the tricky subject of statewide infrastructure needs – and how to pay for it.

Deb Hickok, Explore Fairbanks, moderated the panel, which included Bill O’Leary, Alaska Railroad; Dave McGlothlin, Holland America Group; Commissioner Marc Luiken, Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities (ADOT); Peter Grunwaldt, Premier Alaska Tours; and Marilyn Romano, Alaska Airlines.

Panelists agreed that a safe road system, improved Port of Anchorage and wise use of cruise tax dollars at the local and state level are critical to continue growing the visitor industry in the state. With more than two million visitors each year, traveling by sea, air and road, maintaining current assets and planning for future needs must be a priority for both industry and state officials.

McGlothlin pointed to the three C’s: the need for communication, collaboration and coordination among cruise, land-package and air transportation companies and the ADOT. Luiken agreed, yet questioned the ability to plan for the future when budgets are cut by 25 percent and the state’s first obligation is to maintain projects funded by federal grants. That leaves little on the table for new ideas.

Taking a slightly different approach, Grunwaldt emphasized the importance of connecting travelers to local Alaskans. These interactions create bonds that bring people back, year after year. Developing strong, local tourism employees and itineraries that connect local communities to visitors is critical for long-term success.

In a similar vein, Romano shared a story from Alaska Airlines about a young boy, who was losing his sight, who wanted to see the Northern Lights before he went blind. Partners across Fairbanks stepped up to provide he and his family a trip of a lifetime and, yes, even delivered the Northern Lights as if on cue. Her point? Tourism partners pull together to make experiences happen, and the strength in that unity is unique. Romano also gave a summary of the airlines’ 2020 Great Land Investment Plan, a $100 million capital plan that provides terminal upgrades, a new hangar and those new 737-700 freighters to support Alaskans.

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