Gov. Mike Dunleavy during a press conference Monday proposed $5 million in new funding for Alaska’s tourism industry, citing the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Dunleavy said the funds, which come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, will be included in his fiscal year 2023 budget and directed to the Alaska Travel Industry Association.
That’s in addition to $1 million Dunleavy said he will ask for in the budget for the Alaska State Parks to keep facilities “clean and accessible” for visitors. The allocations are subject to legislative approval.
A release from Dunleavy’s office said that while state tourism has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels, the industry is expecting a busy season in 2022. That release said 875,000 more people passed through Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport between May and June of 2021 than did during the same period last year.
Additionally, 2,813 more nonresident sport fishing licenses were sold in 2021 than in 2020, while bed taxes and visitor room revenues continued to trend upward in the third quarter of the current fiscal year.
The rebound comes after a particularly difficult year for the tourism industry in Alaska in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which Dunleavy called “nothing short of devastating.”
“Once again, we’re looking to the future to make sure that we can save our industry,” Dunleavy said. “We know that Alaska is a premier destination for tourists from all over the world and we wanted to make sure that we could get back up on our feet.”
The funds build on previous state efforts to revitalize Alaska’s tourism industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. Economic Development Administration approved a $10.5 million grant in November to be used for the state’s travel, tourism and outdoor recreation sectors and was approved by the Legislature in its third special session, according to the governor’s office.
The state also launched a nationwide marketing campaign in the spring of 2021 as a way of encouraging more tourists to visit Alaska. That initiative came as the Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 9, which advocated for the return of cruise ships in the summer.
When asked what the state’s “COVID safety selling point” was to tourists, Dunleavy said the availability of Alaska’s resources, including vaccines and treatment options including monoclonal antibodies. The press conference came hours before Alaska reported its first case of the omicron variant.
“Alaska’s fully prepared to have an open tourist season,” Dunleavy said. “Folks understand the virus; many folks are vaccinated, many folks will decide how they want to deal with the virus. In the end, we feel we’re prepared to move on with life. That’s not (to) ignore the virus, but understand what it really is and how it’s impacting our lives. Our industries have to have people go back to work. People want to travel, people want to live, people want to get out and Alaska is an ideal destination for that.”
Dunleavy’s full press conference can be viewed on the governor’s Facebook page.
Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at firstname.lastname@example.org.