Gov. Mike Dunleavy, shown here on April 9 at the Wings Airways hangar in Juneau, held a news conference in Anchorage on April 16, 2021 announcing his office’s plans for supporting tourism in Alaska going forward. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire )

Gov. Mike Dunleavy, shown here on April 9 at the Wings Airways hangar in Juneau, held a news conference in Anchorage on April 16, 2021 announcing his office’s plans for supporting tourism in Alaska going forward. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire )

Free vaccines for tourists: Governor talks future of tourism industry

The governor wants $150 million to aid the tourism industry.

Tourism is one of the Southeast Alaska’s biggest economic dynamos, generating billions of dollars each year for the region.

But with Canada’s shuttered ports, the region — and state as whole — is poised to spend another year without that desperately needed economic boost.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy held a news conference from the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage on Friday, announcing the plan his office was working on to staunch the bleeding and help businesses and communities across the state.

“They, like a lot of Alaskan business and entities, rely on people coming up to Alaska,” Dunleavy said during the conference, speaking of the Alaska Native Heritage Center. “Unlike other states that are connected in the Lower 48, we’re not connected. In a time like this, we’re going to be in a very competitive position in the late summer going into the fall.”

[City plans ahead for future avalanche seasons]

Dunleavy’s office is putting together a request to the Alaska State Legislature for $150 million out of the state’s American Rescue Plan funds to assist the tourism industry. He also said that his office is trying to reach an agreement with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to facilitate cruise ship tourism. However, he harbored little optimism for an equitable resolution as the deadlines for cruise companies to set the machinery in motion to make cruises possible this year rapidly approach.

“We’ll continue to work with the CDC, but I’m losing hope,” Dunleavy said. “There’s only a few days left till cruise lines have to make a decision to deploy their resources to other places.”

The tourism aid package as a whole was well-received by the Alaska Travel Industry Association, an Anchorage-based statewide nonprofit membership organization for the travel industry.

ATIA President and CEO Sarah Leonard said the governor’s efforts to support the industry are “impressive.”

Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer will work with local businesses and communities to see how best to assist, Dunleavy said. Meyer will begin by visiting Southeast Alaska, Dunleavy said, the area hardest hit by the loss of cruises. Meyer will be in the area beginning Monday, Dunleavy said, stopping in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan before moving to other communities across the state.

Dunleavy mentioned the possibility of filing a suit, similar to the one filed by Florida, against the CDC, if the cruise season isn’t allowed to start.

“We’re prepared to file suit to discuss damages to our state, to our business, to our municipalities,” Dunleavy said. “If that’s the only tool that’s left in the toolbox, we’re prepared to pursue that.”

Dunleavy also announced a program wherein visitors to Alaska could get vaccinated for free.

“If you come to Alaska, you get a free vaccination,” Dunleavy said. “You want a shot? You come to Alaska, you’ll get a shot.”

Dunleavy’s offer for the state to vaccinate tourists was specifically highlighted as a positive by ATIA.

“The governor’s plan to offer vaccinations to all visitors is also a huge advantage for our industry,” Leonard said.

Dunleavy also mentioned an advertising campaign that his office would run, paid for with the state’s CARES Act funds, to entice visitors to the state.

“This is not a big overseas item. This is Alaska,” Dunleavy said. “The cruise ships bring a lot of money, bring a lot of people here, which is good. It trickles down to Alaskans who make a living off of it. We’re gonna try and bring it back.”

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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