State’s tourism budget could be cut by two-thirds
Alaska’s office of tourism marketing is used to budget cuts. Their 2015 budget of $9.6 million was reduced from $17.9 million the year before. Thursday night, the House of Representatives passed their version of the state’s budget, further cutting tourism spending to about $3.2 million. Unlike other portions of the budget, no House Democrats submitted an amendment to boost tourism funding.
Amid job losses in Alaska’s major industries, tourism is expected to grow this year.
“We are a bright spot in the economy,” said Visit Anchorage President Julie Saupe, who said tourism generates $3.9 billion in economic activity for the state, and cutting funding will lead to less money for the state in the future. “We want to keep growing tourism [and] growing our industry so that our contributions to the state budget and to our local communities continue to grow, as well.”
2015 was a banner year for the tourism industry — more than two million people visited Alaska. Saupe argues slashing funding would slow that momentum.
“We expect not this summer, but [in] 2017, 2018, 2019, we’ll see a decrease in visitors,” she said.
Alaska’s previous budget of $9.6 million is significantly less than several other states. Hawaii spent $84 million; Arkansas spent $17 million last year.
But Rep. Lance Pruitt, who chairs the House Finance Subcommittee on the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development – within which the tourism office is housed – said many difficult decisions had to be made in the budget.
“Tourism is an important part of our economy,” he said. “We do not want to have that negative impact. But we also have to think about our fiscal situation.”
He said lawmakers have had many discussions with the Alaska Tourism Industry Association, a nonprofit that promotes tourism, about the budget cuts.
“They were very appreciative,” Pruitt said. “We had very positive conversations with them on this. They liked what we had done.”
Saupe said Alaska is a “bucket list” destination for many people, but traveling here is expensive. She said in order to stay “top-of-mind” with consumers, maintaining an investment in tourism is critical.
“Marketing is an important component to helping people actually book,” Saupe said.
The Senate is expected to vote on the budget Monday.