Public-private tiff stalls Alaska plan

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ABOARD THE MAASDAM -- A proposal to bring Alaska's three-pronged tourism promotional effort under centralized control could be in jeopardy because of a difference of opinion between Gov. Tony Knowles and the private sector.

The impasse, over who would have the right to make marketing and spending decisions, could indefinitely delay implementation of the so-called New Millennium Plan, which the industry has been trying to finalize for more than a year.

The latest details of the proposal were given to delegates at the annual Alaska Visitors Association convention, held aboard Holland America's Maasdam on a sailing between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Los Angeles.

The plan would create a statewide organization, possibly to be known as the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA), by merging the activities of the AVA, which is a trade association; the state's Division of Tourism, and the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council (ATMC), which administers the programs jointly decided upon by the other two.

The New Millennium Plan, under which the private sector would contribute an increasing share of a proposed $10 million, with the state's share gradually declining, is intended to provide a more streamlined organization and a more stable source of funding.

An earlier version of the plan failed to get through the 1998 session of the legislature. One of the sticking points was the administration's insistence on retaining all, or a large part, of the marketing decisions for the Division of Tourism.

Although an amended version of the plan will be resubmitted when the legislature reconvenes next year, the private sector has not changed its opinion that the Division of Tourism should be no more than a partner in the planning process.

AVA members were unwilling to speak negatively in public about the standoff, but privately they tended to take a pessimistic view. One former president of the association said, "There's not much sentiment in the private sector for us to pick up the lion's share of the tab for a generic Alaska promotion if the state is going to tell us how it has to be spent." Another former president characterized the chances of getting the law enacted in the 1999 session of the legislature as "slim, at best, and nonexistent unless we can get around the administration's opposition to the role the private sector has in mind for the Division of Tourism."

Alaska's tourism promotion budget has been dwindling since 1990. Then, it stood at $15 million. It dropped to just over $10 million in 1994, to $8 million in 1997 and to just $6.7 million in fiscal 1998, of which $2.7 million was contributed by the private sector.

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