NelsonWhen did you first become involved in the tourism industry?
I joined the tourism industry a mere three months after September 11. It was a time of extreme trepidation and triumph. I was drawn to the industry as I watched private and public sectors struggle and eventually emerge stronger than ever. I have a genuine affinity for Alaska and wanted to be a part of the recovery process. I spent my first decade in Alaska working as a journalist and editor – an occupation that thrives on finding balance during conflict. It felt natural to transfer those skills to a public affairs role in tourism.

I called Alaska home for 28 years and my tourism positions have included managing visitor information centers as well as working in membership, public affairs, philanthropy and operations. I have worked for nonprofits as well as the cruise lines, each providing me with insights that are valuable in my current role.

In what way does the cruise industry impact your role at Visit Anchorage?
The cruise industry is vital not only to Visit Anchorage, but to the state. Cruise lines bring the bulk of visitors to Alaska. It is expected that 58 percent of the state’s visitors will come by cruise ship this year. The ripple effect of the cruise traveler is most evident for our members in Southcentral, especially with the return of Holland America calling on the Port of Anchorage.

The impact of the cruise traveler, however, is also felt up and down the Railbelt and beyond. Our state’s infrastructure, revenue and workforce are stronger thanks to the cruise lines’ presence. They also purchase goods and services from more than 1,000 Alaska vendors – including our members – and are generous supporters for community causes. The cruise lines are valued partners in Visit Anchorage’s mission to attract visitors. Part of my role is to protect and promote, which requires educating our members and the public on how our relationship with the cruise lines generates tourism revenue.

What’s the best part of your job?
Collaboration! Despite its diversity and sometimes competing interests, I am fascinated by the industry’s ability to find common ground to create a healthy economy for the State of Alaska. It’s not easy getting small business owners, public officials and corporate executives to be on the same page to advance the industry’s interests. I am also inspired by leaders within our sector – they are diverse, visionary, nimble and resourceful. My job allows me to work with this talented pool to ensure the tourism industry remains relevant.

What impact are the new cruise ship destinations, like Yakutat, Nome, Savoonga and the Northwest Passage, going to have on Alaska and its cruise industry?
New destinations are a great way to entice and enrich a traveler’s experience in our state. For a state dependent on the oil and gas industry, adding ports of call is a great way to diversify Alaska’s economy.

The impact of just one or two small ships can bring big returns in terms of revenue to a city or borough (port and dock fees), employment and economic growth as new businesses spring up to meet customer needs. Also, as much as 25 percent of cruise guests return to Alaska as independent travelers – purchasing airline tickets and tours, renting cars, eating in restaurants and staying in hotels and B&Bs.

The addition of Ponant, a luxury small-cruise-ship operator, sailing in Alaska this year, has also strengthened the state’s position as a cruise destination and captures the high-end, adventure-seeking customer.

How can Alaska businesses show their support for the cruise industry?
Awareness! Understanding the needs of the cruise lines and the expectations of their guests is key. Taxes, regulatory issues, air lift, available room nights, guest destination scoring, port facilities and fees, airport and road improvements, tour pricing, hours of operation, proximity to first responders, state and national park accessibility, safety and workforce availability all weigh in a lines’ decision to add, keep or eliminate a destination.

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