AVA warns members to be wary of tourism taxes

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KETCHIKAN, Alaska -- The threat of new, and potentially bothersome, tourism taxes in Alaska is very real, members of the Alaska Visitors Association were warned last week.

Ken Dole, the outgoing president of the association and operator of the Waterfall Resort, near Ketchikan, told delegates at the annual AVA convention here that communities throughout the state were eying tourists as an additional revenue source.

"We must try to ensure that when new tourism taxes are introduced, they are taxes we can live with," Dole said in his final address as AVA president. "We must convince our legislators -- at state and local levels -- of the importance of our business to the economy."

Residents of Juneau, the state capital, recently voted to impose a $5 charge for every cruise ship passenger entering its port next year.

And voters in Haines indicating their desire to implement a hotel room tax and to restrict the volume of tourist traffic into town.

These ballot results were advisory measures, for the guidance of the local council, not automatic law.

"We lost in Juneau, and the vote in Haines did not go exactly as we hoped," Dole said. "And we dodged a bullet in the [state] legislature this year when we faced a targeted tourism tax, which didn't pass. But the danger isn't over yet," he continued. "We still must be wary."

The convention at which Dole bowed out as president will be AVA's last; next year, it will be replaced by a new body, the Alaska Travel Industry Association, which will assume the promotional responsibilities of AVA; the state Division of Tourism, and the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council, a joint public/private sector marketing and promotional organization.

The change to a single entity was developed in response to a declining promotional budget and the need to bring more members into the dues-paying community of tourism companies.

The state has cut its contribution to the effort by so much, according to Dole, that Alaska now stands 29th among the 50 states in tourism promotional spending.

"[Alaska must] reestablish itself as a major player in the tourism game," Dole said. "It's not that the AVA is no longer effective; it is. But we have to reorganize in order that we can take a greater hand in promoting our state."

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