Tourism promotion merger to refine marketing efforts

JUNEAU -- Alaska tourism interests are geared to do things differently in 2000 and beyond following the passage of a bill to restructure the state's marketing efforts.

The bill (S.B. 107), which was passed in the late stages of the past legislative session, cleared the way to merge the functions of the three current promotional and marketing bodies: the Alaska Visitor Association (AVA), the Division of Tourism and the Alaska Tourism Marketing Council (ATMC), which implemented the programs of the other two.

Their roles will be consolidated within a new entity that will be known as the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA). AVA, the trade association of the industry, will exist for another year, allowing for an orderly transition to ATIA.

One of the most obvious effects on the private sector will be financial. Under the new plan, more of the tab for promoting Alaska will have to be picked up by the industry rather than by the state.

In return, though, the private sector will have a greater say in how the state is promoted and to whom. In the past, despite the high degree of cooperation that existed, some in the industry were unhappy with the cost and the thrust of some of the Division of Tourism's programs.

The bill, which solidified and streamlined Alaska marketing under ATIA, arose out of the industry's New Millennium Plan, for which AVA has been fighting for several years.

A transitional team is finalizing details of the structure of ATIA, which will be run by a board of directors, some of whom will be elected by the private sector, with others appointed by the governor.

The state is expected to maintain a level of investment in tourism promotion -- although that level has been declining steadily -- but the hope is that, in any case, the members of ATIA will eventually be able to bear a significant share of the cost.

A membership drive is under way. Those who have not been contacted should call AVA's fax-on-demand service at (888) 685-2225.

Ken Dole, president of AVA, said the New Millennium Plan was designed to create "an organization that makes effective use of our collective marketing dollars."

Delegates at the annual AVA convention in Ketchikan Oct. 13 to 15 will be updated on the transition to the new program.

New industry association has taxing battles ahead

JUNEAU -- Among the issues the new Alaska Travel Industry Association must confront is the increasingly thorny one of tourism taxes.

More and more, the legislature, faced with budget shortfalls caused primarily by declining oil revenues, is looking to the visitor industry as a source of new income for the general fund.

In recent years, both the state and individual cities have talked longingly about imposing a head tax on arriving cruise passengers, and although the assault has been turned back, nobody in the industry believes the danger has disappeared.

In the last legislative session, the Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill to put a $5 per head levy on all riders transported by the Alaska Railroad -- including those carried in privately owned rail cars.

That would have meant, of course, a tax on passengers on Holland America's McKinley Explorer and Princess' Midnight Sun domed sightseeing cars, which are pulled by the Alaska Railroad.

The bill was submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, where it remained without further action until the close of the session.

Another bill submitted last session would have put a 2% tax on hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast accommodations in the tourism season; a $3 per head berth tax on cruise ships, and a $2 per night charge for wilderness and nonhotel packages. The initiative was defeated.

An effort also was made to have the legislature impose a 10% tax on all vehicles rented for fewer than 90 days. It died without coming to a vote.

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