Alaska auditors recommend dissolving state’s tourism marketing board

When is a tourist like a fish?

A new state audit has recommended an end to the state’s tourism marketing board as the state prepares for a tourism-marketing program akin to the one used by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

ASMI, instead of getting funds granted by the state, markets Alaska’s seafood by levying a fee on fish caught here. That money is then spent on a collective marketing effort for the state’s seafood industry. The new tourism program envisioned for the state would indirectly levy a fee on tourists brought here. That money would pay for a collective marketing program currently funded by state grants that are directed by the tourism board.

The Alaska Legislature, seeking savings, has encouraged that switch.

The audit, released Monday night, concludes: “the board is scheduled to terminate on June 30, 2018. We do not recommend extending the board’s termination date.”

“The Alaska Tourism Marketing Board was the right equation at the time it was created. As we evolve in life, so does tourism,” said Colleen Stephens, chairwoman of the board and a tour operator in Valdez.

Last year, the Alaska Senate’s Labor and Commerce Committee drafted a bill to create an ASMI-like structure for tourism. If approved, Senate Bill 110 would allow sectors of the tourism industry to levy a fee upon themselves. The fee would be between half a percent and 2 percent of their total assessed gross revenue each year. The cost could be passed on to tourists, but if it is, the bill requires that cost to appear on receipts.

Stephens said the exact amount paid by each sector of the tourism industry would be determined by their representative on the board, and a vote of the board.

It’s still a work in progress, and both she and Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage and chairwoman of the commerce committee, said a new draft of the bill will be released soon. That bill needs to move quickly in order to become law before the board expires in midsummer, and if it doesn’t, there could be high stakes.

Tourism accounts for 11 percent of the jobs in Southeast Alaska, according to figures from the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, and it has been one of the few bright economic spots in the state’s worst recession since the oil bust of the 1980s.

Last year, Gov. Bill Walker and the Legislature increased funding for tourism marketing in order to help the industry transition to the new system and keep existing marketing programs going in the interim. This year, Walker’s budget proposal doesn’t even include a line item for tourism marketing.

Will the bill be passed in time?

“We’re hoping,” Costello said.

Ready or not, Stephens said, “the new paradigm is coming down the road.”

• Contact reporter James Brooks at or call 523-2258.

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