From the publisher: Alaska needs to market 2021 before it's too late

The $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan became law on March 11. Much of the federal money is directed to help states, cities, businesses and individuals recover from the economic damage of the pandemic.

Aid for the beleaguered tourism, travel and hospitality industries - which suffered more that most with the near-total shutdown of events and vacations - was a major part of the congressional work.

And yet, here it is a month later, and the governor's office has only now announced it will propose a major Alaska tourism marketing campaign someday soon.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy called it a "forthcoming initiative"at a staged event for the news media in Juneau last Friday. He said his proposal will include "one of the largest tourism campaigns in state industry."

He should have held the press conference on March 12, the day after President Joe Biden signed the law directing more than $1 billion to the Alaska state treasury to help with economic recovery from the pandemic.

He should have had a tourism marketing budget proposal, targeting independent travelers, ready for the Legislature the next week. It's not like either the need or the lack of summer cruise ship passengers were a surprise.

Lawmakers could be close to approving the appropriation by now, and the state could be making plans to launch the nationwide campaign before the end of the month.

Instead, we're at the very start of a "forthcoming initiative"with no details, other than a yet-to-be-scheduled tour of hard-hit communities by state officials to learn what help is needed.

Meanwhile, the summer tourism season will be over in a little more than five months. Considering the time it will take to appropriate the money to pay for the work, to contract with marketing firms, to design the state's campaign and deliver the message, Alaska's dawdling could cost businesses and communities even more of the already diminished summer season than they can afford to lose.

State officials say they need to move cautiously on any spending decisions until the federal government releases detailed guidelines for how the funds can and cannot be spent. Yes, no, and not really. Yes, the state should be careful to follow federal rules. But, no, we already know that help for tourism economies is part of the American Rescue Plan.

At least two different sections of the law say so. One section directs money to assist state and communities "that have suffered economic injury as a result of job and gross domestic product losses in the travel, tourism, or outdoor recreation sectors."And another section governing use of recovery funds says the money should go toward the "negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and nonprofits, or aid to impacted industries such as tourism, travel, and hospitality."

So I would say "not really"when Alaska officials say they need more permission before making plans for a nationwide tourism marketing campaign.

Spend the money wisely, not extravagantly.

Spend the money carefully, as should be the standard for all government money.

Award the work contracts competitively, not to political friends.

But get to work advertising the state before it's too late to grab a share of the summer season.

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In a separate tourism note, the Sentinel's 2021 Wrangell Guide is available at the

office and online. This year's guide is a total redesign from last year, with more pages, bigger photos, heavier paper and a more readable format.

Stop in at the Sentinel and pick up copies to send to friends and family who might be thinking of visiting town. Or send them the online link. A downloadable pdf file of the Wrangell Guide is on the Sentinel web page, in the top-right corner.

Thank you to the advertisers who supported the guide. And thank you to everyone who will help spread the word in Wrangell's own marketing campaign. Though the guides look nice on our counter, they will look better in the hands of potential visitors.

 

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