PALMER, Alaska -- Alaskas tourism community is looking to tap into a different type of travel advertising -- the kind that speaks to Alaskans about the value of the tourism industry.

A public awareness campaign -- dont call it a marketing program, several people cautioned -- would serve to educate Alaskans about the importance of tourism, such as the number of in-state jobs dependent on the industry and the amount of revenue it brings to the state.

There have been a lot of targeted taxes to the industry in the past couple of years, and were constantly battling them, said Bonnie Quill, the executive director of the Matanuska-Sisitna Convention and Visitors Bureau here. A campaign to extol the virtues of tourism, she said, creates support for the industry.

The Matanuska-Sisitna area, better known as the Mat-Su Valley, encompasses a huge swath of visitor-heavy sites, including Wasila, where the Iditarod dogsled race has its restart; Talkeetna; and the entrance to Denali National Park.

Quill and the Mat-Su CVB has made tourism awareness a priority, putting forth a radio and newspaper campaign over the past three years that includes testimonials from everyday Alaskans (one example is a graphic artist who prints brochures) about the economic benefits of tourism.

Visitors come to watch the [dogsled] races and purchase meals, gas and souvenirs. Local fans and front-runners alike know that tourism is good for the whole Valley, said one newspaper ad featuring Iditarod champion Martin Buser.

I can only measure our success by the support we have from [the Mat-Su] borough Assembly, and its been excellent, Quill said of the campaign. Each year weve asked for an increase in our funding, and weve gotten it.

Its hard for residents to attack our industry when we have a proactive message saying Tourism is good for our community.

Earlier this year, Quill was named to an Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA) work group on in-state awareness, with the goal of taking a similar campaign statewide.

Its still a question of funding, as the ATIAs marketing fund, partly subsidized by the state, is earmarked for destination promotion only.

But Quills work group presented a few ideas to the ATIA this fall, including asking ATIA members to pay extra dues, asking tourism leaders to contribute and by purchasing local ads using co-op funds.

An ATIA spokesman said the industry could create an ad template with a uniform message for CVBs to use in their local markets.

I think we have not done a good enough job of letting people know the real value of our industry, he said. I, for one, love going out to four-star restaurants in Anchorage, and the reality is that without the summer tourism business, most of those wonderful restaurants and facilities would not be there.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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