The tourism industry has been a bright spot in an otherwise struggling Alaska economy of late, growing consistently along with the national economy since the 2008 financial crisis, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported . But Alaska Travel Industry Association President Sarah Leonard said that despite a record number of roughly 1.86 million visitors last summer, the 2017 peak season for the industry was “a little bit underwhelming.”
Leonard attributed the overall slowing growth not to an image problem, but to a lack of an image brought on by steep cuts to the association’s marketing budget.
The state has long funded marketing for the association, which received $16 million of state support in 2013. Nevertheless, multibillion-dollar budget deficits since the 2015 fiscal year have led to cuts across the state budget. By fiscal 2017, the tourism marketing program got just $1.5 million after Gov. Bill Walker vetoed part of the annual appropriation.
The annual marketing funding was back up to $3 million in the current budget despite a directive from the Legislature for the association to wean itself off state support completely. Walker’s capital budget proposal includes another $3 million for 2019.
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“In 2017 Alaska had no television ads, no print ads in national magazines and for the first time in 40 years last year we didn’t have a printed vacation planner — a main printed piece we can distribute to potential visitors,” Leonard said in describing the consequences of the marketing program cuts.
The $3 million of state support puts Alaska 49th — just ahead of Delaware — in terms of state tourism marketing funding nationwide, Leonard said.
“We’re asking for a reasonable reinvestment back into tourism marketing,” Leonard said.