Lee Leschper / Commentary

Tourism can't be lost in session's oil tax debate

It’s a busy or slow Legislative Session in Juneau, depending on your perspective. Busy, because there’s much yet to do as the 90-day session wanes. Slow, because the one key topic dominating everyone’s attention—meaningful oil tax reform—is going nowhere. It’s tempting to believe, that if oil tax reform doesn’t happen, nothing else in Alaska matters. But other things do matter, in particular the state’s annual budget, which should be approved before the session ends. The budget Gov. Sean Parnell has proposed includes an important reinvestment in marketing tourism in Alaska. Increasing the Alaska Tourism Marketing Program from $12 million to $16 million, which combined with $2.7 million from the tourism industry, gives the state a fighting chance to compete and invite more visitors. That 25 percent increase brings the state’s marketing budget back to 2010 levels, and is still far less than most competing states, even some cities, are spending to take attract tourists. It gives a chip in the game, but hardly a pat hand. First a disclosure—our company Morris Communications is in the tourism marketing business, with tourism publications and websites all over the world, including in Alaska. Here that includes Alaska Magazine, The Milepost, Destination Alaska, Where Alaska, and tourism products for our daily and weekly newspapers. Our company gets very little ad revenue from the state’s marketing budget. But what’s good for Alaska tourism is good for us. Growing the number of visitors is good for Alaska. Tourism is big business in Alaska. It’s popular to say that every Alaskan is in the oil business. But we are also in the tourism business. And it’s a very good business, now on the rebound, with a couple million visitors a year. But these are consumers that still chase deals, respond to marketing, and have plenty of options. Those administering that budget have to be frugal, creative and assertive. At the end of the 2011 Session, the Legislature chose to move control of the marketing funds from the Alaska Tourism Industry Association to the Department of Commerce, to work with ATIA. That partnership worked OK in its first year, and will remain a work in progress. But the increase in funding is a step in the right direction. Our kudos to the governor for reinvesting in the “other pipeline” as the industry call it — the pipeline of people and money coming north to visit Alaska. Encourage your representatives in the Legislature to support this increase when they vote on the budget. Lee Leschper is Alaska regional vice president for Morris Communications publications including the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Email him at [email protected]
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