Gov. Sean Parnell signed legislation in June aimed at creating economic growth for small businesses throughout Alaska and reversing the recent decline in visitor travel to the state.

Parnell introduced legislation after he met with small business owners and visitor industry leaders and learned of the detrimental effects of a cruise passenger head tax.

The visitor industry accounts for more than 40,000 Alaska jobs during peak summer months and $3.4 billion in direct and indirect spending. After many years of growth, Alaska’s tourism industry experienced sharp declines in visitation in 2009 and 2010.

Over two years, the state has lost more than 260,000 visitors, $420 million in direct and indirect spending and up to 5,000 Alaska jobs. This summer alone, the state is facing a 15 percent decline in cruise visitation.

The Alaska Cruise Association terminated a lawsuit in July. A stipulation filed with the U.S. District Court for Alaska dismissed the complaint with prejudice. In an earlier settlement, the group agreed to dismiss the lawsuit if Parnell signed Senate Bill 312, which cut the commercial per-passenger excise tax by 25 percent to $34.50 from $46 and provided an offset for passenger taxes paid to local governments.

The new law also requires a review and report to the Legislature every three years regarding cruise passenger visits to Alaska, use of tax proceeds and community needs, so that the Legislature has current information on the industry and visitor trends.

Lodging hospitality, Alaska style

Businesses in Alaska’s tourism industry, meanwhile, are working to generate additional revenue by stimulating in-state tourism and attracting corporate travelers.
The Westmark Hotel chain and the Millennium Alaskan Hotel are among those offering added value to lodging packages aimed at satisfying the desires of busy guests.

With 10 full-service hotels and inns in nine key communities along the major highways of Alaska and Yukon, Westmark targets the over-the-road Alaska visitor in a big way. The company boasts that one phone call to a single contact point in the Westmark chain, and Alaska/Yukon visitors can handle arrangements for every aspect of their trips.

The hotel chain also specializes in accommodating the needs of business travelers within Alaska, offering such first-rate lodging as the Baranof Hotel in Juneau and Westmark hotels in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Sitka, where the company recently undertook renovations.

Unique setting for hotel

Located on the shores of fabled Lake Spenard, the world’s busiest floatplane base, the Millennium Alaskan Hotel is one mile from Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, four miles from downtown Anchorage and boasts its very own floatplane dock. The Millennium offers access to all-Alaska amenities such as sportfishing, hunting, flightseeing excursions to Mount McKinley, glacier and wildlife viewing cruises, hiking, jogging paths around Lake Spenard and the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that appeal to both business and leisure guests.

The Millennium offers several special packages targeting shoppers, outdoor enthusiasts and romantic couples, all of which provide a 50 percent rate reduction for a second night stay, based upon availability.

– Rose Ragsdale, Petroleum News

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