It’s now clear that there’s no quick fix to counter the sudden and severe damage inflicted upon Alaska’s visitor industry by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Restoring visitorship will take a host of short- and long-term private- and public-sector measures, coupled with a lot of hard work and a ton of luck.
Yet we have faith it will happen. A few moments spent outside in Ketchikan, whether it be at Settlers Cove, Rotary Beach, Deer Mountain, George Inlet, Perseverance Lake or a hundred other spots on a day like Monday remind us just how special this place is and why so many people want to visit.
The aspects of COVID-19 that have hit Alaska’s visitor industry so hard have affected tourism nationwide. We don’t know how long the novel coronavirus will be a factor, but the U.S. would be wise to have a coordinated national strategy in place to fully promote travel’s resurgence when safe to do so.
This type of cohesive national strategy is envisioned in federal legislation sponsored by Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan. The “Visit America Act” — co-sponsored by Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine — would require the creation of a position with the U.S. Department of Commerce to coordinate a national strategy across several federal agencies.
Although the full text of the proposed legislation wasn’t available on Monday, information from Sullivan’s office indicates that the Visit America Act would require the development and use of a strategy to help the visitor sector recover from the COVID-19 pandemic swiftly.
“Whole communities in Alaska and across the country have seen their travel season and their livelihoods wiped away in a matter of weeks,” Sullivan said in a prepared statement. “I’m glad to be joined by Senators Schatz and King in a new effort to rebuild and reinvigorate the tourism economy and the thousands of jobs it supports with a coordinated, whole-of-government strategy at the highest levels of the administration.”
We understand that government won’t be the primary solution for rebuilding tourism in Alaska and beyond — but having a coherent, coordinated national strategy in place is likely to be much more helpful than a series of half-baked half-measures.
“We know tourism needs to develop innovative ways of doing business in this new reality,” Alaska Travel Industry Association CEO Sarah Leonard said in the prepared statement. “Having dedicated and high level leadership, as described in the Visit America Act, helps lead our industry toward economic recovery.”
That makes sense.
The Visit America Act was introduced on May 21, and refered to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Recognizing that tourism and travel supported jobs for about one in 10 Americans in 2019, according to the U.S. Travel Association, we urge Congress to ensure that federal action to help the visitor secto to rebound is ready as soon as possible.