The Alaska Campground Owners Association (ACOA) grappled with declining membership participation and steadily falling camper nights at its Spring Convention May 4-6 in Anchorage.
Only a third of ACOA’s 69 member campgrounds were represented at the convention, which concerns the board, noted Scott Reisland, owner of Denali Grizzly Bear Resort, Denali National Park, a former ACOA president and current ex-officio board member who also serves on the board of directors of the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (ARVC).
The 30 people who attended also discussed ways to prop up business this year amid the likelihood that camper visits will continue to decline. Border crossings into the state by independent travelers declined by 15% in 2006 to about 81,000, continuing a pattern that began after Sept. 11, he said. Border crossings topped 101,000 in 2001, and Reisland sees no reason why this trend will reverse itself this year.
“We are trying to stem the decline of RVing to Alaska,” he said.
Even though fuel is less expensive in Alaska than in Canada or the West Coast, the attitudes of RVers who once considered driving to Alaska are changing, he said. RV enthusiasts nationwide are making more frequent trips but staying closer to home. “This is not conducive to Alaska, which takes four to five days just to get here on the Alcan Highway,” he said.
While visits to Alaska via the Alcan are declining, however, cruise ship business is reaching record levels, he added, thanks to a bountiful marketing budget. To better compete, ACOA members were busy this spring lobbying their state legislators for additional funding to market their state to independent travelers. They supported bills that called for a $20 million core tourism marketing budget plus an $8.5 million independent marketing budget.
Guest speakers at the convention included Ron Peck, president of the Alaska Travel Industry Association (ATIA), and ATIA marketing director Kathy Dunn, who discussed ATIA programs to spur ground travel in Alaska. ATIA is targeting potential markets in the Upper Midwest and West Coast with TV and newspaper advertising to help revive ground travel to Alaska.
Other speakers outlined ways to promote the state through bird and wildlife publications and via the Scenic Byways program. Meanwhile, Mary Arlington of Kansas, a national ARVC board member, was a special guest at the convention.
New officers and board members were elected. They are: Chairman Bill Utecht. Homestead RV Park, Wasilla; Vice Chairman Laura Saxe, Eagle’s Rest RV Park, Valdez; Secretary Wilma Leslie, Alaska Waters RV Park, Wrangell; Treasurer Graham Ward, Tolsona Wilderness Campground, Glennallen; and directors Dwight Dietrich, Grandview Lodge & RV Park, Palmer; Bill Wileman, Chena Marina RV Park, Fairbanks; and Joan Smart, Deep Creek View Campground, Ninilchik.
Sheila Lankford, Montana Creek Campground, Susitna Valley, is an ex-officio member as chairwoman of the ACOA Finance Committee.