Alaska’s office of tourism marketing is used to budget cuts – but not this big.
It’s 2015 budget of $9.6 million was reduced from $17.9 million in 2014. This year the Legislature cut the 2017 budget to $4.5 million – and then the Governor vetoed all but $1.5 million of it.
“We are a bright spot in the economy,” said Visit Anchorage President Julie Saupe, who said tourism generates $3.9 billion in economic activity for the state, and cutting funding will lead to less money for the state in the future.
“We want to keep growing tourism [and] growing our industry so that our contributions to the state budget and to our local communities continue to grow, as well.”
Last year was a banner year for the tourism industry — more than 2 million people visited Alaska – and this year is expected to be even better. Saupe argues slashing funding would slow that momentum.
“We expect not this summer, but [in] 2017, 2018, 2019, we’ll see a decrease in visitors,” she said.
In response to the huge cuts, the Alaska Tourism Marketing Board decided to not publish a travel planner for the first time, eliminate advertising and close the international offices. The remaining money will be spent on public relations and keeping AlaskaTravel.com updated.
“This is not a marketing program that will grow Alaska tourism. However, by maintaining opportunities to advertise on TravelAlaska.com, purchase leads and participate in trade and PR programs, your business can still leverage the tourism marketing program in the coming year,” the board said.
Alaska’s previous budget of $9.6 million is significantly less than several other states. Hawaii spent $84 million; Arkansas spent $17 million last year.
But Rep. Lance Pruitt, who chairs the House Finance Subcommittee on the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development – within which the tourism office is housed – said many difficult decisions had to be made in the budget.
“Tourism is an important part of our economy,” he said. “We do not want to have that negative impact. But we also have to think about our fiscal situation.”
He said lawmakers have had many discussions with the Alaska Tourism Industry Association (ATIA), a nonprofit that promotes tourism, about the budget cuts.
“They were very appreciative,” Pruitt said.
Saupe said Alaska is a “bucket list” destination for many people, but traveling here is expensive. She said in order to stay “top-of-mind” with consumers, maintaining an investment in tourism is critical.
“Marketing is an important component to helping people actually book,” Saupe said.
In a statement, ATIA said: “Recognizing this level of tourism marketing funding significantly impacts the visitor industry’s ability to remain competitive and impacts those businesses and communities that rely on a strong statewide marketing program, ATIA leadership is moving forward with discussions around sustainable funding for Alaska tourism marketing.
“The ATIA team continues to work with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED) toward a grant agreement to transfer the management of tourism marketing to ATIA. The ATIA Board also approved temporary measures to support keeping TravelAlaska.com live and maintained; fulfilling any outstanding vacation planner requests and supporting research efforts related to the Alaska Visitors Statistics Program this summer.”
Sources: KTVA and ATIA